Inverse Daily: Scientists Reveal the Devastating Cost of Cigarette Butts

The most pervasive form of plastic pollution on Earth isn’t plastic bags or even plastic straws. It’s cigarette butts.

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Hello, Inverse Daily fam. If you haven’t seen Tom Hanks’ uncanny portrayal of Mr. Rogers in the new trailer for “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” take a minute to let it brighten your day, then join me on a deep dive into today’s news.

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INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I’m in this new phase of saying, ‘Okay, but how do we move forward?’”

— Glacier geographer Michele Koppes, Ph.D., on how she deals with climate change anxiety.

Heavy on Longevity

Elon Musk and the Neuralink crew made big waves last week with an announcement that their brain-machine interface would be ready for human testing as early as next year. But the concept of linking a brain with a computer is nothing new. Scientists have known for decades that electrodes implanted in the brain can capture the necessary neural activity to make brain-machine communication possible. The question is: Can they last long enough to be useful?

The brain and immune system do not like intruders, especially those of the invasive metallic variety, and so they often degrade over time, causing the neural implant to fail. One of the big innovations associated with Neuralink is its flexible, polymer-based implants, which are thin enough to avoid rupturing blood vessels and can be “sewn” into the brain rather safely. Researchers in the field tell me this is not especially new technology, though the Neuralink’s potential for longevity is something worth getting excited about.

Read up on the problems researchers face when sticking things in the brain.

The more you know:

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Butt Out of It

Despite vaping’s ascendancy, cigarettes continue to take a huge toll on society. Their impact extends far beyond human health, reports Sarah Sloat. Once the last of their nicotine has been deposited in human lungs, cigarette butts are still capable of doing damage to plants. Tossed into the grass, butts can drop germination success by 10 percent and shoot length by 13 percent, say scientists.

Because cigarettes are largely paper and tobacco, we assume they’ll biodegrade in the streets along with leaves and other natural detritus given enough time and rain. But it’s important not to forget about the cigarette filters at the stem of each cigarette. These tubes, often made from bioplastic, can take years or even decades to break down naturally.

Discover what 4.7 trillion butts are doing to the Earth.

The more you know:

Need for Speed

Taking the old adage “competition drives innovation” to heart, SpaceX hosted its fourth annual hyperloop pod design contest this past weekend, inviting student teams from around the world to one-up each other’s speed records. It’s an efficient way for Elon Musk to outsource the development of a vacuum-sealed pod transit system to young minds.

The winner, this time around, was team TUM Hyperloop, based in Germany, which set a new public speed record of 288 miles per hour — a slight upgrade from its previous record of 284 miles per hour, which it set under its old name WARR Hyperloop. The outcome of next year’s competition will likely be more dramatic. After the competition, Musk declared that next year’s race would take place in a 6.2-mile vacuum tunnel — a far more challenging venue than this year’s 0.8-mile-long track.

Find out why the new track will be a game-changer.

The more you know:

Stage Fright

The only thing worse than an embarrassing karaoke performance (rapping Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” at 2 a.m. to a crowd of 100 is never a good call) is replaying the memory of said performance over and over again as you attempt to sleep that night. A few months ago, we covered a study showing that people who suffer from insomnia feel the pain of embarrassing karaoke moments more acutely than others. Stressful situations push insomniacs into a cycle of anxiety and sleeplessness, which increases stress further.

The team behind that research is back with a new study diving deeper into how shame keeps us up at night, again using karaoke as a proxy for our more embarrassing moments. This time around, they found that people who had poor-quality REM sleep — that’s the stage most closely linked to dreaming — had a harder time bouncing back from their less-than-stellar musical renditions. REM sleep, they say, is an important part of the brain’s ability to process emotional memories.

Learn how the findings apply to other forms of emotional distress.

The more you know:

Phase 4

This weekend, Inverse sent a crew to San Diego Comic-Con, arguably the biggest comic book and entertainment convention on the planet. (Stranger Things fans in attendance might have noticed our executive producer Weston Green in a very familiar costume.) The news they sent home has us all excited for a big, inclusive year ahead. On Saturday, Marvel Studios laid out plans for a particularly exciting change to the Marvel Cinematic Universe known as Phase Four.

Among the announcements were a new Black Widow solo movie; Shang-Chi, the first story led by an Asian superhero (!); and a female Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder.

If you’re into news like this and haven’t yet signed up for our entertainment newsletter, Multiverse, I can’t recommend it enough. Sign up here with one click.

The more you know:

Today’s Good Thing

Because life on this planet is only going to get better if we try to make it better, each day I’ll be presenting One Good Thing humans are doing to create positive change.

Today, that’s India’s first “garbage cafe,” where people can exchange trash collected from the streets for a hearty meal. The idea is to incentivize people to keep the streets clean while keeping people healthy at the same time.

Share to Win

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Meanwhile …

  • Analysis of the 100 biggest movies since 2001 shows six movies that are entirely original and not being franchised.

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Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts about getting to the moon by 2024.

T. Willy is sure NASA and SpaceX can do it together but wonders whether we’ll add a new plaque saying “We’re back.” Gayle G., however, thinks the US isn’t “committing enough money or time to NASA, hoping instead for miracles of productivity.” John J. thinks it’s doable — “but only if the House of Representatives approves the money.”

Thoughts on brain-machine interfaces, embarrassing karaoke, or cigarette butts? Let me know at yasmin@inverse.com.

Now I’m off singing karaoke,

— Yasmin

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