The changes are evident: instead of sitting down for dinner at a restaurant, it’s takeout in plastic or cardboard packages; instead of grocery shopping using refillable containers, it is single-use bags to keep things sterile.

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The changes are evident: instead of sitting down for dinner at a restaurant, it’s takeout in plastic or cardboard packages; instead of grocery shopping using refillable containers, it is single-use bags to keep things sterile.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed people’s perspective on where germs can be introduced, and has understandably made people much more cautious.

It also means more waste.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said that is true for local hospitals. How much more isn’t information that’s currently available.

"Disposable personal protective equipment has long been in use in health-care facilities... (However), with staff currently donning PPE where they may not have in the past, there certainly will be an increase in the volume of disposable PPE used by health-care providers as they continue to observe infection prevention and control measures," the spokesperson said by email.

According to City of Winnipeg statistics, the amount of collected household waste has also risen substantially over the course of the novel coronavirus pandemic, mainly driven by pickup from single-family residences.

Over the course of March and April, that source of waste alone was tagged at an increase of more than 3,300 tonnes compared to the same time period of 2019 — a 17 per cent increase, and a 23 per cent increase over 2018.

A spokesperson for the city said there has also been an increase in vehicle traffic at the Brady Road landfill. This is largely attributed to more cooking and eating being done at home, as well as the numbers of people taking on home improvement projects during this time of stay-at-home public orders.

If all sources of waste are taken into consideration — including multi-unit residences, commercial collection, etc. — there is an increase in the amount of waste collected by the city over the last two months compared with 2019, but the number is lower than 2018.

However, the only thing that has made up for some of the increased residential waste is a decrease in waste collected from City of Winnipeg facilities. With many such facilities closed, this has dropped substantially.

Compost Winnipeg, a user-paid program overseen by the Green Action Centre, initially suspended all of its activities while it assessed the situation in March. It has since resumed its residential pickup services and is continuing to pickup commercial compost for client businesses that have been able to remain open.

"So on the commercial side of things, our collection is currently less than 50 per cent of what it normally is," said Tracy Hucul, executive director of the Green Action Centre. "Typically, we would be picking up about 70,000 (kilograms) a month, and we’re collecting less than half of that right now."

City of Winnipeg statistics show that the amount of collected household waste has risen substantially over the course of the novel coronavirus pandemic, mainly driven by pickup from single-family residences. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

City of Winnipeg statistics show that the amount of collected household waste has risen substantially over the course of the novel coronavirus pandemic, mainly driven by pickup from single-family residences. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Compost Winnipeg had to lay off three of its nine staff.

Other efforts to minimize household waste in Winnipeg have struggled to keep momentum during the pandemic.

Popular places to refill reusable containers, such as food retail chain Bulk Barn, stopped allowing customers to use their own receptacles in March, and have introduced the use of disposable gloves for customers’ use. Most coffee shops ditched reusable cups around the same time; some grocery stores have asked people not to bring in reusable bags.

"I think while we need to be sensitive about safety and hygiene, and some of those things may have been necessary to make temporary changes, we can’t lose sight of sustainability targets," said Hucul.

"We still need to continue to think about how we can reduce our single-use plastic use and our waste overall."

Hucul suggests when people are at the grocery store or ordering take out, they take into consideration what kind of container it comes in and if there is a less-waste option. Things that come in cardboard and can be recycled, for example, over plastic.

"And also thinking about whether you actually need to purchase something or not. Because of course, one of those first key steps is reducing, and then reusing. So, just making responsible choices."

sarah.lawrynuik@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @SarahLawrynuik