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Why Christmas is bad for the environment and what you can do about it




Christmas is a time of celebration, but once the party’s over, plenty of garbage is hauled to the curb.  

Environmental group Zero Waste Canada estimates that from mid-November to mid-January, the average Canadian generates about 25 per cent more trash than during the rest of the year.

The reason: people buy more stuff over the holidays, and a lot of it — from shiny wrapping paper to glittery cards — typically can’t go in your recycling blue bin, so it’s destined for the landfill. 

To help Canadians celebrate a greener Christmas this year, here are some of the season’s worst offenders and tips for cutting down that holiday trash.

Beware of slick gift wrap

To avoid unnecessary waste, opt for the plainest wrapping paper. Different materials generally need to be separated before recycling, so any gift wrap involving foil, laminated or metallic coating or sparkles will likely be rejected by your blue bin program. 

“Even though it’s made of paper, because there’s this other coating, whether it be plastic, whether it be wax, it kind of messes up [the recycling process],” said Calvin Lakhan, a research scientist at York University in Toronto.

While metallic wrapper paper has a special shine, it’s bad for the environment. (CBC)

Blue box programs also generally don’t want tinsel or gift leftovers such as bows, ribbons, cellophane and tape because these items are made of materials that are difficult to recycle.

On top of that, ribbons and tinsel are a recycling facility’s worst nightmare because they can get stuck in the sorting machines.

“It will get literally jammed inside of the wheels and then it causes massive disruptions to the system,” said Lakhan.

If you’re determined to top up your gifts with bows and ribbons, make sure to save them to resuse the following year. (CBC)

If you’re shopping online, you may start piling up waste even before the gift wrapping begins. Much of the protective packaging used to ship goods, such as bubble wrap and foam chips, is also difficult to recycle and likely can’t go in your blue box. 

“At Christmas, the only thing that I’d say is readily recyclable is the cardboard packaging that Amazon ships your stuff in,” said Lakhan.

However, if you live in British Columbia — and you’re willing to make the extra effort — you can take some of those trickier-to-recycle items, such as bubble wrap and foil wrapping paper, to recycling depots throughout the province. 

But even those depots won’t take ribbons and bows, said Harvinder Aujla, information services manager with the Recycling Council of B.C. She also warns that municipalities will refuse to compost natural Christmas trees if that pesky tinsel is still stuck to it. 

“They’ll pull it and it will just be a garbage item.”

Dark side of glitter

Glitter is all over the place during the holidays, used to jazz up things like tree ornaments, wrapping paper and Christmas cards.

It also turns those items into garbage because it’s virtually impossible to remove every sparkle from a product before it can be recycled.

And glitter has an even darker side — it could actually harm marine life. That’s because it’s typically made from plastic and has a habit of leaking into the environment.

Sprinkle glitter on Christmas cards and you can forget about putting them in your blue bin. (CBC)

“The little sparkles stick to your hands and they get stuck to your clothing and they end up going down the drain or being washed away into our water systems,” said Karen Halley, a spokesperson with GreenUP, an environmental community group in Ontario.

Glitter’s ease of travel makes it one of the many microplastic pollutants fish may wind up ingesting. Scientists have become increasingly concerned about the negative impact of microplatics on aquatic life.

“It’s hard to think your Christmas bauble that you just bought is ever going to affect marine life, but it does happen,” said Halley.

A greener Christmas

There are many simple ways Canadians can cut down on waste over the holidays.

Besides avoiding anything that glitters, Halley recommends keeping a box by the tree to store gift leftovers such as bows and ribbons.

“Throw all the reusable stuff in the box and then take that box away and bring it out next year.”

There are plenty of eco-friendly altnatives to wrapping paper such as reusable cloth. (Submitted by Anna-Marie Janzen/Reclaim Mending)

It may be difficult to reuse fragile gift wrap, but there are plenty of alternatives that are more eco-friendly.

Aujla with B.C.’s Recycling Council recommends using a reusable paper or cloth gift bag or wrapping presents in eye-catching paper such as old comics or maps or an expired calendar.

She also suggests wrapping a gift by using another gift such as a knapsack or T-shirt.

“If you’ve got somebody who likes to bake, wrap their gift in tea towels.”

Sophie Jacazio in Toronto plans to give “experiential” instead of material gifts to many loved ones this year. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

Sophie Jacazio in Toronto cuts down on gift wrapping garbage by giving “experiential” presents to many family members and friends, such as tickets to an exhibit or a night out together.

“I will be most definitely taking some people out for dinner. That to me is a good gift and it enables people to reconnect and spend time together.”

She believes experiences can offer more satisfaction than material gifts — and they’ll never wind up in a landfill

“They’re a lot more thoughtful and respectful of the people I’m gifting them to — and the environment.”


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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla




Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm




Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover




KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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