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How to have a waste-free Halloween

In this week's issue of our environment newsletter, we look at ways to reduce the waste around trick-or-treating and some of the hurdles to widespread electric-vehicle adoption in Canada.

Also: Can China become carbon-neutral by 2060?

(Sködt McNalty/CBC)

Hello, Earthlings! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • How to have a waste-free Halloween
  • Can China become carbon-neutral by 2060?
  • Canada has 'no policy pathway' to hit electric vehicle targets, says analyst

How to have a waste-free Halloween

(Jean-Claude Taliana/CBC/Radio-Canada)

Halloween, like many holidays, is a time for indulging, even overindulging, which often leads to waste. But it doesn't have to, especially since Halloween follows on the heels of Waste Reduction Week in Canada.

There are ways to reduce, reuse and recycle in every aspect of celebrating Halloween, says Caitlin Perry, program manager for the Recycling Council of Ontario, who also leads the national campaign every fall for Waste Reduction Week. Here are some of her tips:

Costumes

Buying a new costume every year to wear for one day isn't great for the environment. The greenest option — and often the most interesting — is to make your own. 

"Just look in your closet and see what materials you might have already at home to create a new costume," Perry said.

If that sounds too intimidating or time-consuming, you can swap with a friend or buy a used costume.

If you really want to buy a new costume this year, Perry recommends:

  • Getting one that is made of high-quality materials that you and/or others will be able to wear over and over again.
  • Avoiding cheap plastic fabrics, which often fray and shed microplastics.
  • Avoiding glitter and sparkles, which are also sources of microplastics.
  • Also, avoiding costumes with cheap plastic accessories that will break easily, such as flimsy plastic masks.

Decorations

Again, making your own from upcycled or natural materials such as pine cones, leaves or gourds is ideal, Perry said.

The RCO's Plastic Action Centre recommends using cardboard boxes to make tombstones or upcycling packaging materials into cats, bats, pumpkins and ghosts.

If you really want to buy something, get durable decorations that can be reused every year — avoid decorations designed to be thrown away after one use, such as artificial spiderwebs.

Pumpkins

Speaking of natural materials, don't get an artificial pumpkin — "go out and buy a real one," Perry said.

In carving it, she recommends using every part that you can, such as saving the seeds to roast and eat as snacks. (On a personal note, I have also enjoyed using the pumpkin guts to make delicious pumpkin bread.)

Once you're done with the pumpkin, dispose of it in one of these eco-friendly ways:

  • Put it in your green or organics bin.
  • Compost it. 
  • Donate it to a local farm or zoo for the animals to enjoy, if they accept such donations.

Of course, if you left your pumpkin uncarved, you can cook and eat the entire thing after Halloween. (Just cut or scrub off paint or other non-edible decorations first.)

Treats

While public health officials have recommended against trick-or-treating in some COVID-19 hotspots in Ontario and Quebec is recommending people take special precautions when giving out candy, the tradition is still a go in most of Canada.

Many tiny treats given out at Halloween come in non-recyclable plastic packaging. In buying treats, Perry recommends choosing the (few) options that come in cardboard boxes, such as Smarties or Glosettes. Some chocolates also come wrapped in foil rather than plastic.

Perry notes that many of these tips can and should be extended beyond Halloween to make a bigger difference: "Always think about the three Rs really every holiday — or every day of your life."

Emily Chung

How do you plan to make Halloween greener this year? Send us some of your tips by email.


Reader feedback

Last week, Emily Chung wrote about low-carbon ways to stay warm on a patio this fall and winter.

Laurence Boucher wrote, "We were going to get a propane fire pit table, but after reading your article, I'm looking for an electric alternative."

Ron Bailey wrote, "While I understand that propane heaters have a carbon footprint, [here are] a few things to keep in mind respecting electric patio heaters. 1. The wiring upgrades required may be cost-prohibitive to justify a relatively temporary installation at someone's home…. Sure, a bar or restaurant can write the installation expenses off, homeowners can't. 2. Also, there may be permitting requirements even for home installation, which add time delays and more costs. 3. If [they are] wall-mounted electric heating units, then they can't be moved to adapt to different seating configurations. 4. The propane heater on the other hand can be moved as they are available with wheels. Lots of flexibility in location. Also, the tank can be from a regular BBQ so no need to buy a second one."

Erica Butler wrote, "The Japanese in the mid regions of the country (where central heating is unusual but winters are still cold) use kotatsu. It's a table with a small lightbulb inside a cage (likely space for coals in the olden days) and then room for a blanket to spread on top, with the tabletop mounted over that. People sit around the table with the blanket over their laps. It works remarkably well! I sat for many nights with friends, toasty warm while we could see our breath. All for the cost of running an incandescent bulb."

Finally, Irene Beaupre suggested this: "An old-fashioned way to keep warm outdoors: a hot baked potato in your pocket or wrapped in a towel on your lap. Restaurants with patios could hand them out or you can bring your own. And eat it later."

Write us at whatonearth@cbc.ca.

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

There's also a radio show! If you've been thinking about an electric vehicle but haven't purchased one yet, tune in to What On Earth and hear why other Canadians are struggling to get EVs and why analysts say better policy could help. What on Earth airs Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m. in Newfoundland, and is available any time on podcast or CBC Listen.


The Big Picture: How China could become carbon-neutral by 2060

Earlier this week, China took the unusual step of publicly criticizing U.S. environmental policies under President Donald Trump. China labelled the U.S. a "troublemaker," calling out its "major retrogression" in fighting climate change while saying that historically, the U.S. is the world's biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The reality, of course, is that China currently accounts for about a quarter of the planet's annual emissions. (The U.S. contributes about 15 per cent.) But China recently made a bold pledge to go carbon-neutral by 2060. This has been hailed as monumental, but environmentalists and clean-tech experts have wondered: how would China get there? The Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy at Tsinghua University in Beijing has provided a possible roadmap. To shed a lot of its fossil fuel use, the country would need to massively expand its electrical grid and make its power sources greener — for example, by increasing its solar power capacity 16-fold and its wind power capacity nine-fold. It would also mean planting more trees and investing in carbon capture technology to sequester the greenhouse gases it is likely to still be emitting in 2060.

(CBC)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • Impossible Milk? Impossible Foods, the company behind the meatless Impossible Burger, announced this week that it's working on a plant-based alternative to cow's milk — that is, one that looks and tastes like cow's milk. An early prototype even mixes in coffee like dairy milk, a common complaint about other plant-based alternatives.

  • A new global alliance is focused on updating our technical and power systems. The Global Power Systems Transformation Consortium is a group of more than 30 of the world's biggest power operators, and they're working to accelerate the transition to renewable energy over the next decade. Pak Haryanto, director of an Indonesian power group, said "the co-ordinated effort and magnitude of this initiative is astounding."
  • Fifty years ago this week, the organization Greenpeace was launched with a concert in Vancouver, featuring performances by Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs and James Taylor. The goal was to raise money to send activists to protest at a nuclear test site on an Alaskan island. Today, Greenpeace works in more than 50 countries, still using sometimes controversial tactics to protest environmental degradation.

Canada has 'no policy pathway' to hit electric vehicle targets, says analyst

(Ben Nelms/CBC)
Enthusiasm for electric vehicles is rising in Canada — as are sales — but there’s a huge gap between today’s reality and Ottawa’s goal for zero-emission vehicles by 2040. We’ll hear what’s holding back would-be EV drivers, and what needs to change. 27:00

Tara Stanton is doing what she can to shrink her carbon footprint. The 50-year-old resident of Wiarton, Ont., shops locally, has solar panels on the roof of her home and pays an extra fee on her electricity bill to fund green energy projects across Canada.

Stanton wants to take one additional step: getting an electric vehicle to use on her roughly 70-kilometre daily commute.

"Myself and a lot of my friends have been working really, really hard to be much more ecologically minded in the last five to 10 years," she told Laura Lynch, host of CBC Radio's What on Earth. "Purchasing an electric vehicle is just part of that movement."

But the single mother doesn't see herself buying an EV anytime soon, citing cost (roughly $10,000 more than a comparable gas-powered vehicle), lack of charging stations in her rural area and the distance to travel for maintenance and repairs.

Electric vehicles are growing in popularity in Canada, with sales doubling in 2018, according to Statistics Canada, not to mention huge new investments in EV manufacturing recently announced for the Ford plant in Oakville, Ont., and the Fiat Chrysler plant in Windsor.

But EVs still only make up about three per cent of new vehicle sales, which means there's a long way to go to hit the ambitious target promised by the Liberal government: that 100 per cent of new light-duty vehicles are zero emissions by 2040.

"Right now, we have no policy pathway to get to those 100 per cent targets," said Joanna Kyriazis, a senior policy adviser with Clean Energy Canada.

While the federal government offers rebates of up to $5,000 for purchases of new EVs, Kyriazis said Canada needs further incentives to help buyers like Stanton make the leap, as well as non-voluntary policies to ensure these vehicles are available to buy.

At present, transportation makes up about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, second only to the oil and gas sector. Those emissions are rising, said Kyriazis, because while gas-powered vehicles are becoming increasingly fuel-efficient, Canadians keep choosing bigger ones.

"We love our trucks and SUVs," said Kyriazis. "Canadians drive the largest, most polluting vehicles in the world," she said, a claim backed up by a recent report from the International Energy Agency. In 2019, for example, the list of the 10 most popular vehicles sold in Canada only included three sedans, according to Desrosiers, the automotive market research company.

That leads to a mismatch between the majority of electric vehicles on offer — which are lighter and smaller sedans — and what Canadians actually buy. 

In places such as Europe and China, stronger regulations are forcing manufacturers and car dealers to go electric, "so those markets are getting top priority and Canadians are getting the shorter end of the electric-vehicle stick," said Kyriazis.

Clean Energy Canada is advocating for a key policy change: a national zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standard, which would force automakers to ensure a minimum percentage of vehicle sales each year are electric. Quebec and B.C. already have ZEV standards, so that's where most electric vehicles go. Not surprisingly, those two provinces account for 80 per cent of all EVs in Canada.

When asked about this, Transport Canada said it "continues to assess the need for additional measures to support the demand and supply of ZEVs and to ensure that Canada is on track to meet its zero-emission vehicles sales targets." 

Those measures will not be enough to persuade Tara Stanton to buy an EV anytime soon. 

"It's one of those balance things, that you have to try to find a way to contribute as much as you can," she said. "I need a new roof on my house. So do I sacrifice a new roof over my head so that I can buy an EV?"

Laura Lynch


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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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