Fight against single-use plastics sidelined by COVID-19, report finds
EDMONTON -- Support for a ban on single-use plastics is dwindling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more Canadians favouring the health and safety protections of plastics over reusable alternatives, according to a recent study by Dalhousie University.
Last year, the university’s Agri-Food Analytical Science Lab found that 90 per cent of Canadians were in support of stronger regulations on plastics, with 70 per cent in favour of a ban on single-use plastics.
However, since the beginning of the pandemic, support for stronger regulations has fallen to 79 per cent and support for a ban is down to 58 per cent.
Fifty-two per cent of Canadians also agreed that new regulations surrounding single-use plastics should be put off until the pandemic ends.
“We can see that COVID has made a bit of an impact on how we see health versus the environment,” Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-food Analytics Lab, told CTV News Channel Saturday.
“We’re using more plastic, unfortunately. But I don’t think Canadians have forgotten how dire the situation is. I think there is this recognition that there is a problem, but I think the majority want us to hit the pause button until we are done with this pandemic.”
Even though Charlebois says Canadians are aware of the environmental impact of plastics, 29 per cent of study participants reported consuming more products packaged in plastics during the pandemic.
The report also found that, knowing environmental packaging could cost more, 50 per cent of respondents have become more price conscious thanks to COVID-19, particularly those receiving the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
But as Canadians adapt to the realities of the new normal, Charlebois says he feel optimistic that more retailers and consumers are beginning to embrace reusable alternatives again, such as fabric grocery bags.
“Over the last month or so, we have seen more retailers and consumers become more comfortable using reusable bags because they know how to clean them, they know how to take care of them,” he said.
There’s no question that Canada’s push to limit single-use plastics has been impacted by the pandemic.
In mid-January, officials in B.C. said they were looking at a province wide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags to end a piecemeal, city-by-city approach to the problem of plastic pollution.
Just 10 weeks later, the province's chief public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said stores were to provide clean plastic carry-out bags as COVID-19 case numbers skyrocketed.
And as online shopping increased, rife with plastics containers, some cities were forced to cut back, or even cancel outright, municipal recycling programs.
But Charlebois does not feel that the pandemic has been a “major setback” for the fight against single-use plastics. He does advise that more research needs to be done to show whether single-use plastics really help cut transmission of the virus.
“There are indications that the virus itself doesn’t flow through supply chains. But we need to do more research,” he said.
“With more research and knowledge, we’ll be able to reassure the public.”