Own the conversation this weekend with The WTF, a top-6 collection of the current and topical environmental news briefs, delivered with a side of humour.

The WTF: The Week This Friday Vol. 39

This is the Week This Friday! 6 quick-and-smart briefs about happenings in the environmental space.

Summers Could Last Half the Year by 2100?!

Source: Science News

Historically, the four seasons in the Northern Hemisphere have been predictable – winter, spring, summer, fall; it’s a regular pattern that people depend on. But as climate change progresses, seasons are beginning to shift and we are seeing more dramatic and irregular change to the length and start dates of seasons. 

According to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, summers in the Northern Hemisphere may last for about half the year by 2100. 

Researchers at the American Geophysical Union measured changes in the seasons’ length and start dates in the Northern Hemisphere by looking at historical daily climate data from 1952 to 2011. Their findings show that, on average, summer grew from 78 to 95 days during this timeframe, while winter, fall, and spring shortened. The researchers concluded that if these trends continue without climate mitigation, winter will likely last less than 2 months in 2100, and summer will be the largest portion of the year.

To all those summer-lovers and winter-haters out there, this might seem like a change you could get behind. But don’t get too excited – longer, hotter summers would not be all beach days and sun tans. With hotter and longer summers, we would see intensified high-temperature events, like heat waves and wildfires, and more often! Then, during the warmer, shorter winters, we would start to see cold surges and intense winter storms, similar to the recent snowstorms in Texas.

Yuping Guan, the lead author of the study, stated that “numerous studies have already shown that the changing seasons cause significant environmental and health risks.” These seasonal shifts need to stop if we want to maintain a healthy climate and protect life on this planet.

Invasive Mussel Species Found in Alberta – Entered Through Moss Balls

Source: Facebook: My Wild Alberta

Invasive mussels have been found in Alberta, and Alberta Environment and Parks have found their way of entering the ecosystem – through moss balls. Similar findings have appeared in the United States, and officials have begun to look into the possibility of this happening here in Canada. They have found the moss balls with the invasive species in pet store aquarium plants. My Wild Alberta has issued a warning on their facebook that these moss balls must be destroyed and not dumped or disposed of in any way which could make its way into the water systems, regardless if the mussels are visible or not.

Due to their distributions to pet stores – the public may have come in contact with them and this poses a grave danger to the wellbeing of ecosystems. They are believed to be either zebra or quagga mussels. Although they seem small and harmless, they could potentially cause a huge threat to Alberta’s aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, and water infrastructure. Alberta officials are pushing the message urging the public how to handle this threat and how to properly destroy them. Alberta Environment and Parks usually sees mussels enter ecosystems through watercrafts and transportation – with them latching onto hard surfaces.

Environmental Racism and Pollution in Chicago

Source: UChicago News

Despite the hunger strike hosted last week by more than 100 residents to stand their ground against ever-increasing air and water pollution and its disproportionate effect on marginalized communities in the south and west sides of Chicago, the government has yet to halt the activities of the industries responsible for this.

The group of activists chose to give-up solid foods for one month, to stand in solidarity and peacefully protest the operation of a metal-recycling plant, known as General Iron. The ever-growing issue of this plant is that it poses many health issues to those who live in the surrounding areas, the largest prevalent cause being the rise of asthma cases of residents near the plant.

It is important to note that General Iron relocated their facility from the mostly white and affluent community in Lincoln Park to the Southeast side of Chicago composed predominantly of Black and Latino communities. The reason for the relocation was due to complaints from the previous neighborhood on the air pollution, to which the company was quick to shut down its operations. However, the industry has seemed to shift the burden of this pollution to racialized groups instead—many are stating this as an example of environmental racism.

This is also not the first incident of this type of operation within these communities, as they have already been burdened with the weight of environmental pollution from many factories; most significantly the operation of a facility known as MAT Asphalt in 2018, which contributed to the degradation of air quality in the Southeast Side.

The Chicago government is currently investigating the claims made by residents and activists alike, to better understand the effects of pollution and how POC communities at large can be protected from these environmental consequences. 

Repairing Your Appliances Just Got Easier

Source: San Diego Appliance Repair

In the UK, it has been confirmed that consumers are soon going to have a new “right to repair” on products and appliances they buy, like TVs, washing machines, and fridges. In order to stay committed to the EU rules on reducing energy and bills, they are starting from the source and reducing the need for new materials at the consumer level.

Consumer goods often don’t last long enough and can’t be fixed in the home. So, manufacturers are now legally obligated to provide consumers with the “right to repair” by making spare parts for products available to them. Not only will these new rules extend product life spans up to 10 years and save people the equivalent of over $130 CAD on energy bills, but it’s also a win for the environment. 

Having a new right to repair will reduce tons of electrical waste – literally. It is estimated that 1.5 million tonnes of e-waste will be reduced in the UK each year and carbon emissions will be lowered as well. Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said, “Our plans to tighten product standards will ensure more electrical goods can be fixed rather than thrown on the scrap heap – putting more money back in the pockets of consumers whilst protecting the environment.”

This solution has the potential to prevent a lot of products from being disposed of when they could simply be repaired. Hopefully other countries will start to follow suit and people begin to buy less and repair more overall.

Greener Face Masks to Fight COVID-19

Source: Unsplash

A Montreal non-profit organization has created a biodegradable facemask in order to fight against COVID-19 in a much more environmentally friendly way. As we all have seen by now, natural spaces are littered with masks and other personal protective equipment due to the pandemic. The environmental impact of this will persist for years, but with this mask, it decomposes in approximately 20 days. Stéphane Rou, the CEO of FPInnovations – a forestry research centre stated, “I take this mask I put it over 50 degrees C, I watch it, it’s gonna decompose in front of you”, which stirs up big hopes to combat the two pressing world issues with solutions like this.

The mask is composed of three layers all made from wood fibers, including the ear loops and nose piece which are also biodegradable, and to make it even better – they have found a way to produce the masks on an industrial scale creating millions of masks per day. Although, like many solutions, it is not perfect. Companies will need to figure out their needs to fine tune them. Karel Ménard – the head of the Quebec Coalition for Ecological Waste Management has expressed that plant workers might throw them out as they might not know they are compostable and burn them – creating emissions along the way. Ménard believes that it makes more sense to recycle single-use masks. But this does provide hope to a more sustainable and innovative way to protect the environment while protecting ourselves from the health concerns of COVID-19; for now, time will tell.

The Truth About Plastics In Canada 

Source: Environmental Defense

Environmental Defense released a real fact list about plastics in Canada. The organization explains that while the federal government plans to ban six single-use plastic products and list plastic as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, companies that profit from pumping plastics into our economy —and the environment—are spreading disinformation to try to prevent any new rules and regulations. 

The Real Facts:

1. Banning unnecessary plastics helps to stop plastic pollution

  • The federal government is proposing to ban six single-use plastics in 2021: six-pack rings, shopping bags, stir sticks, straws, certain take-out containers and cutlery. These items can either be replaced with safer alternatives or phased out of widespread use altogether. 
  • By banning single-use products, we can remove these unnecessary plastics altogether from our lives and our environment. It’s an effective way of reducing plastic pollution.

2. We can’t recycle our way out of the plastic crisis

  • Recycling has been around for over 4 decades. During that time, the amount of plastic waste polluting our environment has grown substantially. Recycling was originally created by the plastics industry as a way to greenwash its activities. 
  • The industry produces an ever-increasing number of plastics from virgin fossil fuels and other additives in a wide range of formats that are simply designed for obsolescence. The only answer is to produce less plastic and commit to reusing existing plastic over and over. Reduce, and Reuse, and as a very last resort: Recycle. 

3. Investing in plastic is investing in fossil fuels 

  • Plastic production is part of the fossil fuel industry — oil and gas are its raw materials. As the industry continues to get serious about fighting climate change, the industry wants to boost plastic production to try to save itself from extinction. Essentially, Canada’s plastics and chemistry industry are hoping to play a ‘proper role’ in the nation’s economic recovery plan.  

4. The government needs to categorize plastics as toxic in order to regulate them 

  • Labelling plastic substances as toxic will allow for much-needed regulation of these materials that are far too prevalent in our lives and our environment.

5.Plastic pollution is not just the consumer’s fault

  • Plastics is a $4 trillion global industry that pumps materials into our lives that are not recyclable and easily make their way into our environment. Right now, the companies that make plastics and sell us ever more products in a huge variety of plastic packages don’t pay the costs of their pollution. 
  • To change things, we need to tackle the problem at its source. We need governments to hold industry responsible for the waste they create and profit from. Producer responsibility model could be a key solution. 

6. Canadians Generate the MOST waste per capita of all countries in the world

  • Yup, you read that right. Canadians generate the most waste per capita of all countries. Every year, 125 tonnes of plastic are introduced into the Canadian market for every person who lives in the country. That is a huge pile that is mostly used once and then thrown away.

7. Unnecessary packing is… unnecessary and comes at a cost 

  • If anything, less unnecessary packaging should make the goods we really need, like food, cheaper while also lowering the costs of dealing with litter, waste disposal and pollution.

8. The federal government isn’t banning all plastics, just the single-use ones 

  • Some people out there are claiming that banning plastic straws and the likes will lead to a ban on hockey equipment and IV bags. Absurd. The federal government has no plan to ban ALL plastics, despite what some pro-plastics lobbyists might say. 
  • The government is proposing to ban some single-use plastics using a set of criteria to identify which plastic products should be banned.

Full details of the list including links, resources and further information on how you can get involved can be found here. 

Siobhan Mullally is studying in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) at the University of Waterloo while also minoring in English Language and Literature. As a budding ecologist, researcher, and writer, she is interested in exploring the intersections between environment and communication to inspire climate action. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature and getting lost in her favourite novels.

Greta Vaivadaite is a Journalist, Online Editorial and Social Media Coordinator at Alternatives Media. Greta has completed her undergraduate studies at York University in Environmental Management, and completed her Masters of Environment and Sustainability at Western University in 2020. Her professional interests lay in advocating for environmental education, sustainable fashion, and a greener travel industry. 

Teo Guzu is a Master’s in Environment and Sustainability student with a focus on policy and research. Her background is in the field of Sociology and Global Development Studies where she developed an interest in how climate change disproportionately affects different communities. Her interests lie in plastics and waste management, conservation, and clean technology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family/friends and her dog Charlie, reading, writing, and watching docu-series on various topics.