By Dave Naylor
Even though their department sent millions of COVID-19 masks to the dump before the pandemic, Public Health Agency officials warned of possible “environmental impacts” if regular Canadians started chucking their masks. “Increased personal protective equipment is creating more PPE waste which is not currently recyclable or biodegradable,” said the January 14 memo PHA memo, obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter. Regulators should be “developing programs to reduce litter,” wrote staff.
The PHA estimated by July 1 Canadians will have used 1.8 billion surgical masks, 490 million disposable gowns, 91 million face shields and four million goggles. Plans were needed to “reduce the amount of personal protective equipment waste,” said the memo.“While single-use personal protective equipment is the current standard for medical settings, options are becoming increasingly available for reusable masks for non-medical purposes and the public,” wrote staff.
“These options are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than single-use disposable masks, particularly as more jurisdictions make mask-wearing mandatory.” The PHA itself sent two million high-grade N95 masks and 440,000 gloves to the dump when it closed a Regina warehouse in 2019. It was one of three warehouses closed by the Agency in a plan to save $900,000 on leasing and storage costs.
Health Minister Patricia Hajdu last April 1 told reporters the Agency had so few supplies left it was unprepared for the pandemic. “Did we have enough in the stockpile?” asked a reporter. “To your question about whether we had enough, no,” replied Hajdu.
Sally Thornton, then-Agency vice president responsible for the stockpile, defended the disposal of masks at an April 22 hearing of the Commons health committee. She subsequently resigned last September.
“Would you agree we failed to keep an adequate stockpile?” asked Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux (Edmonton Riverbend). “No, the stockpile was actually doing well,” replied Thornton. “But the Minister said it was inadequate,” said MP Jeneroux. “With hindsight, would I have liked it to have been different?” replied Thornton.