Environmentalists warn single-use plastics on the rise in Alberta amid COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'Increase in food waste and reliance on single-use plastics suspected during COVID-19'
Increase in food waste and reliance on single-use plastics suspected during COVID-19
WATCH: Taz Dhaliwal hears from environmental experts about two consumer trends that have emerged during the COVID-19 outbreak. – Apr 7, 2020

According to environmentalists, the COVID-19 pandemic could have a unique impact on plastics consumption across Alberta.

Kathleen Sheppard, executive director at Environment Lethbridge, said that new policies at some grocery stores across Canada, like Sobeys and Save-on-Foods, are not allowing reusable bags into their stores. Fast-food restaurants such as Tim Hortons and Starbucks, meanwhile, are no longer offering refills.

In turn, practices such as these, Sheppard says, have increased reliance on single-use plastics.

“There was a lot of momentum around moving away from those items, finding alternatives and things like that,” Sheppard said.

“Now people are feeling cautious about not having those single-use items available.”

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Once the pandemic is over, Sheppard says, she hopes people will continue on with the reduction of single-use plastics.

An environmental professor at the University of Lethbridge, Jim Byrne said the reliance on single-use plastics at this time is a problem, but not critical since this shift is relatively short term.

“We’re also using many more medical masks and other protective gear [made from plastic] in care homes and hospitals,” he said.

“In a pandemic we have to accept increasing use of some materials for appropriate protection,” he added.

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Both experts say the exact effect on the environment will become clear once more information is compiled. The City of Lethbridge plans to release data on the amount of single-use plastics that have come through the recycling centre in the coming week.

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Byrne also warned that panic-buying and hoarding would only do more harm than good to the planet.

“Our waste collectors are seeing a lot more food in the garbage cans and I think that’s probably because of hoarding,” Byrne said.

“People have bought too much, they’re not eating it and it’s going to waste, and that’s inappropriate.

“There’s enough for everybody to survive. There isn’t enough for everybody to hoard.”

Both experts note they are waiting to see exact numbers on these environmental effects, adding the information they’ve currently gathered is anecdotal.

On the other hand, Sheppard said some people are being conscious of their actions during these unprecedented times by only buying what is necessary.

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“People are interested now in growing their own food and reducing food waste,” she said.

She said that some people are paying more attention to how many trips they’re making to the grocery store, as well as how long the food they’re purchasing may last.


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