A sign that the pandemic is impacting our consumption habits, the idea of banning single-use plastics is now much less popular among Canadians, according to a new study obtained by La Presse. A worrying situation for many environmentalists, who had warned in recent weeks about possible wrongdoing prompted by COVID-19.
Posted August 27, 2020 at 5:00 AM
“Last year, on this date, we had a quasi-consensus statistically. Today we see quite quickly that we are no longer there at all. This is a cause for concern, because the market is changing and the interests of citizens fluctuate with it, ”explains Professor Sylvain Charlebois of Dalhousie University, one of the four researchers in the report that was prepared with the help of 2,000 respondents over two years.
In 2019, nearly 74% of Canadians said they were “somewhat or completely in agreement” with the ban on single-use plastics. This year, that number has dropped by more than 15 points to 58%. About 27% of citizens now say they “disagree” with the measure, compared to only 10% last year.
This crisis has affected our perception of plastic. We need to understand that in the long run people are not necessarily opposed to it, but with the possibility of a second wave they don’t want the authorities to move too quickly.
Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Laboratory of Analytical Sciences in Agri-Food, Dalhousie University
One in two citizens (52%) believes that the new federal regulations on single-use packaging “should wait” for the pandemic to “be completely resolved”. Almost a third of respondents (29%) also acknowledge that they have bought more plastic since the start of the crisis, while a majority of them say they are ‘more concerned’ about safety (55%) and price. (50%) of food.
A “very worrying” trend
The new data comes as in recent weeks, several environmentalists have lamented that the plastics and petroleum industry is trying to take advantage of the pandemic to advance its interests.
> Read the article: “The fight against plastic must not stop”
Federal Environment Secretary Jonathan Wilkinson has already acknowledged that the ban on single-use products – first scheduled for 2021 – could be delayed. He says he wants to continue “as soon as this is reasonable”. In the United States, California also lifted the ban on single-use bags in its territory for two months in June.
In the eyes of Emmanuel Rondia, of the Montreal Regional Environment Council (CRE-MTL), the current trend is “very worrying”. “Montreal must stay on track if we are to achieve zero waste […]. These include regulatory frameworks to reduce the use of disposables and to promote alternative solutions, particularly through deposit-return systems, ”he points out.
Agnès Le Rouzic, of Greenpeace Quebec, agrees. “The conclusions of this study may be the result of the plastics industry’s major disinformation campaign that, despite the experts’ opinion, claims that disposable plastic is the safest option,” she denounces.
This misinformation has had a clear impact on consumers, but also decision-makers, retailers and major coffee chains in particular.
Agnès Le Rouzic, Greenpeace Quebec
Two months ago, 100 scientists signed an open letter to debunk some of the myths about reusable. “It is clear that its use can be done safely by following basic hygiene rules. […] The virus is mainly spread by inhaling atomized droplets, rather than through contact with surfaces, ”they wrote.
Montreal ‘has not given up’
In April 2019, the Plante government announced its intention to ban single-use items in Montreal. The city’s Environment Service was then tasked with drawing up a regulatory framework, with a view to adopting a regulation next spring. But the pandemic has slowed the process.
“Of course we support what we have announced. But we don’t intend to give up. There are those who have been drafting the regulations for a few months, ”says Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde, head of ecological transition, who wants to make this promise“ by the end of the year ”. The elected official remains realistic: more awareness will have to be worked on.
It will be a matter of public opinion for us. It must be clearly explained that this crisis is partly due to climate change. If we no longer manage one crisis for another, we will go straight for a wall.
Laurence Lavigne-Lalonde, responsible for ecological transition in the city of Montreal
Ms Lavigne-Lalonde also promises that alternatives will be offered to traders. “For example, we will not ask restaurateurs not to sell for takeout. It’s just that the materials used are less harmful, ”the consultant concludes.