Earth News|Collected: Single-use plastic ban in SA; Honeybees join fight against breast cancer; Rio Tinto execs to step down after investor outcry over Juukan Gorge destruction

Your weekly round-up of good news for the planet

Honeybee venom found to be ‘extremely potent’ in killing breast cancer cells

Scientists in Australia have BEEn very BUZZy recently. Ok now we have the bee puns out the way, a study by the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Western Australia that tested extracts from more than 300 honeybees and bumblebees, discovered a compound in honeybee venom called melittin can be used against two cancer types which are hard to treat, in a lab setting.

The findings from the study, which has been published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Precision Oncology, were described as “exciting”, however further testing is needed.

Ciara Duffy, the PhD researcher leading the study, described the honeybee extracts as “extremely potent”, with one concentration of venom found to destroy cancer cells within an hour, with minimal harm to other cells.

Melittin, which occurs naturally in honeybee venom, can also be synthetically produced.

South Australia becomes the first Aussie state to officially ban single-use plastics

South Australia has become the country’s first state to officially ban single-use plastics.

The legislation was passed in parliament today (Wednesday) in the Marshall Liberal Government’s Single-use and Other Plastic Products (Waste Avoidance) Bill 2020  and will mean that from early 2021, the sale, supply and distribution of single-use plastic products such as straws, cutlery and beverage stirrers will be prohibited in South Australia. The legislation includes exceptions for people with a disability or medical requirement.

You can read more on that story here.

Shareholder outcry over the destruction of two significant Aboriginal rock shelters in WA leads to resignation of senior Rio Tinto execs

The Aboriginal rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia’s Pilbara region were declared one of Australia’s most significant archaeological research sites, due to evidence of continuous human habitation which dates back 46,000 years. The shelters sat above around eight million tonnes of high-grade iron ore, with an estimated value of AU $132m. Global mining group Rio Tinto detonated charges in an area of the Juukan Gorge in May 2020, destroying these ancient rock shelters in the process.

The fallout from the miner’s decision has seen strong condemnation from the public and investors alike. Rio Tinto went ahead with the blasts, despite the opposition of Aboriginal traditional owners.

Since the blast, Rio Tinto has launched an inquiry and released an apology; shareholders have called for companies to make public their dealings with traditional owners and demanded an immediate halt to any operations that could damage existing sites; one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds, AustralianSuper, has requested a public inquiry into all agreements Rio Tinto has made with Aboriginal traditional owners in the iron ore-rich Pilbara; and this week, chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques and two other senior executives have announced they are parting ways with Rio Tinto, “by mutual agreement” with the board.

This is significant, because it’s the highest profile example of the increasing influence and importance of institutional investors holding companies to account for their impact on human rights, the environment and, as in this specific case, their relationships with First Nations people.

Australia’s parliament is currently holding an inquiry into the miner’s actions.

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