Over the past year, thousands of plexiglass panels were installed in grocery stores, cafés and offices across Quebec as part of the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. If and when those barriers come down, what will happen to all that plastic?
"We're not hiding the fact that it's a huge challenge," said Environment Minister Benoit Charette. "At the moment there's no option that allows us to say we can repurpose all of the plexiglass that came onto the market in Quebec over the last year."
Plexiglass is a synthetic polymer that can only be recycled by heating it up or breaking it down with chemicals, a process known as depolymerization. At the moment, there are no recycling companies in Quebec, or anywhere in Canada, that recycle this type of plastic.
"We have to find a market [for it]," said Karel Ménard, director of the Front commun québécois pour une gestion écologique des déchets (Quebec coalition for ecological waste management).
"It's great to collect and recycle, but if...we don't create demand, we'll be stuck with it."
Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose
Ménard says a good first step would be coming up with a plan to pick up all of the plastic and store it in a central location.
If recycling doesn't pan out, he's convinced the government could collect the panels and sell them to businesses that are reopening. He says another possibility would be repurposing the durable plastic in public works projects.
"Right now there are panels in pretty much every store in the province," he said.
"Since it's transparent, we could think of building bus shelters, urban tunnels to protect people from rain, awnings or parks," said Ménard.
"These are things that we probably should've thought about before," he said.