The plastic back in full force thanks to the COVID-19

Le plastique de retour en force grâce à la COVID-19

The plastic has a bad press the last few years. But with the pandemic, we have witnessed his revenge. Quebecers are leaving the reusable bags and use more single-use plastic. Result : packaging manufacturers have increased their production by 20 %.

Like many Quebecers since the beginning of the pandemic, the sars coronavirus, Brenda Thibault, met the Max on the boulevard of the Ormière in Quebec city, has opted for bags to single use when she did her grocery shopping.

Since the month of march, plastic is everywhere : gloves, masks, protective visor, containers of take-away meals, not to mention the great return of the bag in the grocery store.

“The bags that were banned are back in force, and manufacturers have returned their production to the most of their ability,” explains the director general of the Alliance Polymers Quebec, Simon Christian.

Packaging EB, which manufactures bags for grocery stores and pharmacies, said to have increased its activities by 20 % in this sector since three months.

“We have delivered 600 000 bags of just an IGA Quebec city and Chaudière-Appalaches regions,” says chairman Frédéric Lessard. It is a 20 % increase, which compensated for the industrial sector in decline. “

Same goes for Polykar, the most important québec-based manufacturer of packs and bags (take-away meals, grocery products, like the bags loaves of bread).

“Food packaging accounts for 50% of our turnover, and we have seen an increase of almost 20 % compared to the situation prior to the pandemic,” says its president, Amir Karim.

Reusable grocery bags banned

Due to the crisis, several grocery stores, such as Max, asked its customers to avoid the reusable bags. Provigo has them banned outright. The costs of the bags have been temporarily suspended.

The measure has led to an increase in the number of plastic bags, but the safety remains priority, stresses Johanne Héroux, director of communications at Loblaw (Maxi, Provigo, Pharmaprix).

Since a few days, reusable bags are accepted, but the customer must package their purchases.

On the side of the IGA, we are going after Montréal to ban, on march 19, the plastic bags everywhere in the province. The project is postponed, but the goal remains, ensures the spokesperson for Sobeys, Anne-Hélène Lavoie.

The reusable bag has not been banned, but the customer must package its shopping. “I won’t deny that there has been a large decrease in the use of reusable bags “, says Ms. Lavoie.

Habits upset

Even if public health has not issued guidelines on the plastic during the pandemic, Quebecers have changed their habits.

“Even the consumers most responsible went to buy products they had never purchased : disinfectant wipes, most of paper-based products “, emphasises Fabien Durif, director of the Observatory for responsible consumption at the School of management sciences of UQAM.

Agnes LeRouzic Greenpeace rather believes that Quebecers have had the reflex to turn to what they knew and that seemed safer.

“But studies show that no matter the matter, it is the disinfection that account,” she said.

“This crisis is going to last a small time. So it is important to ask questions about the environmental disaster that is caused with the increased consumption of single-use plastic “, she insists.

– With Alexis Magnaval, QMI Agency

A few figures

  • Only 9 % of plastic is recycled, 4 % is incinerated, and 86 % ends up in the landfill, according to a Deloitte/Environment Canada.
  • Recyc-Québec calculated rate of plastic recycling of 25 % by 2018. And 75 % of the plastics have been disposed of in the home or by the triage centre.

A real “bargain” for the lobbyists

The health crisis will reignite the debate of the place of the plastic in the company, hope to the industry.

“The pandemic has been a boon to the lobby of the plastic, which was very offensive to the United States and Europe,” says Agnes LeRouzic, the organization Greenpeace.

For example, the Association of the plastic industry in the us has sent, in march, a letter to the department of Health asking that he declare the plastic bag as the option that is more sanitary and safe.

The european Confederation of the plastics industry has also asked the european Commission to lift all the prohibitions of the use plastic with unique and defer those to come in using the security argument.

“The plastic industry has always said that he had to be careful with the reusable bags, because this is not all the time own,” says the spokesperson of the canadian Association of the plastics industry, Marc Robitaille. It was highlighted during the SARS, and also because there is a risk of contamination. “

Industry health

The one who is also the president of the company Omniplast and lobbyist in order to “educate” elected officials about the implications of “hasty decisions” banning plastic bags is of the opinion that it is necessary to reopen the debate.

“Is that plastic bags are disposable or recyclable, are so appalling that it ? The pandemic demonstrates, does it not, that the plastic bags may have a place in our society ? ” he asks.

The president of the manufacturer Polykar, Amir Karim, believes that the current context confirms that there is a benefit to some plastics.

“It was a debate, often very emotional, but I think that science will take over. There are reasons for packaging : for hygiene and to extend the service life of the product, ” he says.

Despite the movement to ban the plastics, the industry was well developed before the pandemic and represents approximately $ 6 billion of sales in Quebec. Environmentalists have been especially hurt the image, ” says Simon Christian, managing director of Alliance Polymers Quebec.


Solutions for new waste

The return of plastic bags in grocery stores has enabled Packaging EB at East Broughton, in Chaudière-Appalaches, to keep all full-time employees, despite a slowdown in the industrial sector. In the following, the firm Logistec Stevedoring, in the Montérégie region, has a tray Box-19 to retrieve the protective equipment of the employees.

Noting the avalanche of protective equipment on its work sites, a company has invented a system for the collection and destruction of these new waste.

“If each citizen uses a disposable mask per day, it can go very fast… It may be an issue of pollution extremely serious, which did not exist before,” says director of strategic development for Sanexen, Mathieu Germain.

To the masks, may also be added the gloves, visors, wipes to clean surfaces or tissues.

The company specialized in remediation and water treatment saw glimpses of the problem on its sites.

Sanexen has created a Box-19. A tray is installed on a site, for example, a trade or a corporate office, to enable people to dispose of such waste in a safe manner when they leave the premises. The company recovers the tray at the end of the month, and disinfects.

The tray Box-19

It destroyed waste is then disposed of through an incineration process that does not release any pollution and produce clean energy.


In three weeks, a hundred containers have already been delivered all over Quebec, especially on construction sites, in shopping centres and in some of the institutions like school boards and municipal buildings.

“This is madness. We will ensure to serve all the world, ” reveals Mr. Germain.

Several Quebecers have also started to equip covers-faces-washable, which should reduce the amount of plastic thrown away.

In restoration ?

Other solutions could also be implemented in sectors such as catering, believes Agnes LeRouzic, spokesperson of Greenpeace and was responsible for campaign Oceans and Plastic.

For take-away meals, a restaurant may create a subscription system.

“You deliver meals to customers in boxes and reusable that the company goes to retrieve and disinfects “, illustrates it.

“It is not true that the disposable is the only way to ensure the safety of the citizens,” she insists.


Quebec less concerned

Since the beginning of the pandemic :

  • 54 % of people who consumed in bulk, they ceased to do so ;
  • 32.8 per cent consuming more single-use products ;
  • The number of people who have brought their reusable bags to the grocery store has fallen by more than 40 % ;

The reasons mentioned are : the committed packages over shopping with reusable bags (64 %), the grocery store does not accept most (57 %), fear of risk of transmission of the COVID-19 (45 %).

  • In the beginning of the pandemic, with 62.5 % of people were in favor of eliminating plastic bags in grocery stores (-12,5 points compared to before the crisis). Recent data, however, seem to point to a return to normalcy in the public opinion. Even that 60 % are worried about a resurgence of the plastic.

Source : the Observatory for responsible use of School of management sciences of UQAM

Ban always planned for 2021

The minister of the Environment of Canada, Jonathan Wilkinson, has made it known to our Office of investigation, that Ottawa always had the intention to ban certain single-use plastics, but the pandemic has led to a “slight delay” in the process.

“The COVID-19 has limited our ability to undertake a public consultation,” said its attached to Moira Kelly.

The timetable of 2021, however, is maintained. The government has yet to establish the list of products that will be banned. He had already referred to the straws, bags, and utensils.

“The considerations arising from the pandemic of the COVID-19 will be taken into account when making these decisions,” she said.

Less safe ?

A study published in march in The new England Journal of medicine indicates that the COVID-19 remains longer in the plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard. A viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after the application on the plastic while on the board, it was not detectable after 24 hours. At the end of march, the ministry of Health of British Columbia has recommended that grocery stores no longer accept reusable bags, often made of plastic. Here, the national Institute of public health of Quebec has not issued guidance on this subject matter.

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