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 21 million litres of hand sanitizer, which the Public Health Agency of Canada distributed throughout the pandemic. More than eight million litres were distributed to provinces and territories, the agency said in an email Wednesday.
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 734,000 litres and British Columbia spent more than $645,000.
An email from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which recently issued a public tender to dispose of the sanitizer, said it 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.
British Columbia officials said the last few shipments it received from the federal agency included product that was close to their expiration date.
Ottawa took an aggressive approach to get supplies at the outset of the pandemic. In March 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada entered into bulk procurement of medical equipment and supplies on behalf of provinces and territories, said André Gagnon, an agency spokesman.
He said it proactively allocated hand sanitizer to the provinces and territories based on an agreement with health ministers from all levels of government.
Provinces and territories were to advise Ottawa if they no longer wanted to receive a product from the national stockpile, permanently or on an interim basis, Gagnon added.
The agency said once the sanitizer is distributed, jurisdictions are responsible for it "throughout its life cycle, including disposal."
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.
The federal government has spent more than $11 billion on medical devices and protective equipment since the pandemic began.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2023.
— With files from Hina Alam in Fredericton and Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax