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Provinces look to cleanse storerooms of expired hand sanitizer sent by Ottawa

Hundreds of thousands being spent on repurposing or disposal of unused sanitizer

Provinces are awash with expired hand sanitizer that Ottawa sent during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government spent $376 million on more than 20 million litres of hand sanitizer, which the Public Health Agency of Canada distributed throughout the pandemic.

But now, most provinces have excess expired sanitizer and getting rid of it through disposal or repurposing comes with a hefty cost.

Saskatchewan is expecting to spend more than $100,000 to get rid of more than 350,000 litres of hand sanitizer that’s sitting in a Regina warehouse. Manitoba spent more than $462,000 to repurpose its nearly 734,00 litres.

An email from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which recently issued a public tender to dispose of the sanitizer, said the department appreciated the shipment from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

However, authority spokesperson James Winkel said it was able to source a more effective sanitizer supply on its own.

Saskatchewan Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck said provincial governments should have considered distributing the excess sanitizer to other organizations.

“Instead of allowing a warehouse of hand sanitizer to sit unused and expire in the middle of a public health crisis, the Saskatchewan Party government should have considered distributing it to non-profits, community organizations and others who were running short of supplies,” Beck said in an emailed statement.

Manitoba officials said that province, too, had excess because it received hand sanitizer from the federal government, but had procured its own.

That province said repurposing hand sanitizer is roughly one-third the cost of disposal. During repurposing, a chemical company extracts the separate chemicals out of the hand sanitizer to reuse them.

Prince Edward Island spent about $60,000 to dispose of about 48,500 litres of expired hand sanitizer last year.

Quebec and Nova Scotia are looking at options to get rid of their expired hand sanitizer, but officials did not say how much it was expected to cost.

New Brunswick’s expired sanitizer was repurposed by a local vendor that converts alcohol products into biofuel.

“It’s a cost-efficient way to dispose of these materials, while reducing our environmental impacts,” Adam Bowie, a government spokesperson, said in an email.

Not every region was left with expired hand sanitizer. Nunavut did not procure a large stock of the sanitizer and it said disposal has never been required for the territory.

Ottawa took an aggressive procurement approach at the outset of the pandemic, the Public Services and Procurement Canada website says.

The federal government has spent more than $11 billion on medical devices and protective equipment since the pandemic began.

— Kelly Geraldine Malone, THE CANADIAN PRESS