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In ‘world-first pact,’ over 40 major businesses commit to fight plastic pollution

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More than 40 businesses made a pledge to tackle plastic pollution Thursday by signing up to the U.K. Plastics Pact.

The businesses — which include ASDA, Tesco, P&G, Coca Cola European Partners and Unilever — have committed to meeting a number of ambitious goals by 2025.

These include, among other things: getting rid of problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging via redesign, innovation or alternative delivery models; making all plastic packaging either reusable, recyclable or compostable; and ensuring that 70 percent of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted.

The pact was launched by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a not-for-profit organization specializing in sustainability.

“Together, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink and reshape the future of plastic so that we retain its value, and curtail the damage plastic waste wreaks on our planet,” WRAP CEO Marcus Gover said in a statement.

“This requires a wholescale transformation of the plastics system and can only be achieved by bringing together all links in the chain under a shared commitment to act.”

The issue of plastic waste is a serious one. Europeans produce 25 million tons of plastic waste per year, according to the European Commission. Less than 30 percent of this is collected for recycling.

The U.K.’s Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, welcomed the announcement of the pact. “Our ambition to eliminate avoidable plastic waste will only be realized if government, businesses and the public work together,” he said.

Gove added that industry action could prevent excess plastic reaching supermarket shelves in the first place. “I am delighted to see so many businesses sign up to this pact and I hope others will soon follow suit.”

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EU chief says Biden on the same page over Big Tech regulation

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Kamala Harris sworn in as vice president of the United States

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Kamala Devi Harris was sworn in Wednesday as the nation’s first female, Black and South Asian American vice president.

She took her oath moments before Joe Biden was set to be sworn in as the nation’s 46th president.

Sonia Sotomayor, America’s first Latina Supreme Court justice, administered the vice presidential oath of office to Harris.

Harris and Biden on Inauguration Day inherit a country facing the Covid crisis, an economic downturn and demands for racial justice.

A daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, Harris has made history throughout her career.

As a U.S. senator for California, Harris, 56, was the second Black woman and first South Asian American to serve in the upper chamber. Before her Senate tenure, Harris was the first female, Black and South Asian American attorney general of California. Harris also served as district attorney of San Francisco.

Harris ran for president in the 2020 Democratic primary before joining Biden’s ticket. Her record as a prosecutor at times sparked criticism from progressive advocates for criminal justice reform, though Harris has said she sought reform from within those roles. Harris clashed with Biden during first Democratic debate, criticizing his record on racial justice issues.

An alumna of Howard University and member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Harris is also the first vice president to have graduated from a historically Black college and to be in a historically Black Greek letter organization.

After her own inauguration, Harris is set to swear in three barrier-breaking senators in her new role as president of the upper chamber.

Alex Padilla, appointed by California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom as Harris’ successor, will be the first Latino senator from the state. Following a competitive January runoff elections, the Rev. Raphael Warnock will be the first Black senator from Georgia and Jon Ossoff will be the first Jewish senator from the Peach State.

The new Democratic senators will create a 50-50 split between the two party caucuses in the Senate, giving Democrats a slim majority with Harris as the tie-breaking vote.

On the campaign trail, Harris often recalled a message her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, told her, “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.” 

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Joe Biden sworn in as 46th president of the United States

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Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, January 20, 2021.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. became the 46th U.S. president on Wednesday, completing the most daunting power transfer in recent American history.

Inaugurated in a fortified Washington under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the 78-year-old Democrat took the oath of office at the U.S. Capitol in front of a sparse bipartisan crowd. He enters the White House exactly two weeks after a mob inflamed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, stormed the Capitol, disrupting the transition to Biden’s administration and leaving five people dead.

Biden took the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, with his left hand on a family Bible.

Biden, the oldest American president, faces swirling crises as he and Vice President Kamala Harris take power. At 56, she becomes the first woman, first Black American and first South Asian American to become vice president. Biden will try to streamline the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history to contain a virus that has claimed more than 400,000 lives nationwide.

Biden will aim to boost an economy in which about 18 million people are receiving unemployment benefits and food banks experience demand unseen in decades. He will try to implement a broad agenda while navigating a country where millions of people, including members of Congress, fed disinformation by Trump question the legitimacy of his victory in the November election.

Democrat Biden won the presidency in November in his third try. His first attempt came during the 1988 presidential cycle, followed by a 2008 primary loss to his future boss Barack Obama.

Biden served two terms as Obama’s vice president from 2009 to 2017. He took the job after 36 years in the Senate representing Delaware, a state Biden has said “will be written on [his] heart.” Biden joined the Senate when he was 30.

The president ran last year as the person best equipped to defeat Trump. Concerns bubbled within his party that his record on racial justice and the social safety net left him unprepared to confront the country’s challenges. Biden pledged to “restore the soul of America,” and clinched his party’s presidential nomination after early stumbles.

Tragedy and compassion

The shadow of Trump

Trump’s presence loomed over the day’s ceremonies. He became the first president since Andrew Johnson in 1869 not to attend his successor’s inauguration.

He left the White House for Florida on Thursday morning, hours before Biden took his oath of office. After he gave brief remarks to supporters, Trump lifted off in Air Force One while Biden attended a Catholic mass with masked Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

Trump’s second-in-command, Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., attended the inauguration. So did former Presidents Obama, George Bush and Bill Clinton.

McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were among the lawmakers who voted against counting Biden’s win in Congress hours after the Capitol attack and then attended his inauguration.

The inauguration took place with a smaller crowd, faces covered to slow the spread of the virus. The Jan. 6 insurrection, during which some rioters smashed their way into the Capitol and called to “Hang Mike Pence,” led to tightened security.

Streets around the Capitol were closed Wednesday. More than 25,000 National Guard members patrolled Washington in a show of force.

The National Guard vetted forces amid concerns about insider threats, removing two people for “inappropriate” comments and 10 more for other reasons.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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