Canada should aim to become completely self-sufficient in producing masks and other essential medical supplies needed during pandemics and rely on the country’s forest industry — not its oil industry — to get the job done, says the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“Not only should we make those masks here using renewable products sourced from our forests — something our own scientists have shown can be done — but we have the ingenuity to develop many other bioproducts that could help protect our front-line health workers and do much more,” CCPA resource policy analyst Ben Parfitt said in a new report.
Parfitt says the rush by governments around the world to buy huge numbers of N95 masks during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights just how vulnerable Canada and other countries are to forces beyond their control.
“We need a made-in-Canada solution that sees masks and other essential medical supplies made here,” he said. “But there’s a catch. We can’t have that without healthy, biologically rich and resilient forests. And we have a lot of work ahead of us to make that a reality.”
Parfitt notes that 3M’s N95 mask, which became the subject of an international skirmish when U.S. President Donald Trump tried to prevent its export from the U.S. into Canada, is made almost entirely of oil-derived polyesters, polyurethanes and polypropylenes.
“The billions of those masks likely to be used during the pandemic represent a massive amount of non-biodegradable waste and a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
To encourage the domestic manufacture of N95 masks and other items made from forest-derived products, the federal and provincial governments should:
- Stockpile masks and other vital medical supplies in sufficient numbers and buy as many of those products as possible from Canadian suppliers.
- Provide increased, multi-year funding for bioproducts research.
- Create a new Crown agency to invest directly in production of essential medical goods.
- Increase funding to offset some of the costs of companies building new bioproduct manufacturing lines (a $1 billion assistance program announced by Ottawa in 2009 did this and resulted in improved environmental performance at numerous pulp mills).
- Reward companies with new access to forests on the condition that they make bioproducts, have First Nations consent and have firm First Nation partnerships.
- Maintain or increase existing provincial and federal budgets for tree-planting and conserve more old-growth forests.
“These interventions are modest compared to the billions of dollars in subsidies that both levels of government have given to the fossil fuel sector,” Parfitt said.