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

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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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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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