Sudbury·Video

Transparent gold: demand for protective barriers keeps Sudbury shops busy, leads to plastic shortages

The demand for protective plastic screens in stores, offices and anywhere you can think of is keeping Sudbury manufacturers very busy. 

Companies also looking for ways to keep workers apart in vehicles, mining cages

Rezplast vice-president Sandro Spadafora holds up one of the dozens of protective shields his Sudbury shop is now churning out to guard against COVID-19. (Erik White/CBC )

Looking at the sheets of Plexiglas stacked in the Rezplast shop in Sudbury with workers scurrying around them, you wouldn't know how valuable they are these days.

The demand for protective barriers in stores, restaurants, offices — and pretty much anywhere you can think of — has made this kind of hard plastic a very hot commodity.

"Our costs have gone up 500 per cent from the direct suppliers, so people we quoted two three weeks ago saying 'Hey can I get that?' Now we gotta say, 'Remember that price we quoted? We can't supply it any more, we have to switch it to this," says Rezplast vice-president Sandro Spadafora.

While his company used to be focused on supplying the mining and forestry sector, he says now 75 per cent of their business is providing COVID-19 protections.

Before the pandemic, Bestway Glass in Sudbury used to do some sneeze guards for restaurants, but mostly sold window glass, mirrors and shower stalls.

Now, owner Tom Jones says they're churning out counter barriers as fast as they can.

"The amount of material I've gone through in the last two months is out of this world. It's hard to even find the stuff," says Jones.

"I've argued with my supplier. I say 'I'm not paying more money for this. Now that I'm buying quantity I want to pass this on to the customers.'"

Sheets of Plexiglas and other hard plastic have become a hot commodity as demand for protective screens increases with the re-opening of the economy. (Erik White/CBC )

Spadafora says he's had to turn down some industrial orders because he didn't have enough sheets to supply everyone and convinced one customer to hold off so he could help a Sudbury doctor's office re-open. 

"He really needed it, where I had only so much material left. So I had to call another customer and say 'Look I have a doctor that needs this, can you wait off another 3, 4, 5 days, so I can have them made for you,'" he says. 

Spadafora says he and his staff also spend a lot of time counselling businesses who aren't sure what kind of protections they need to put in place and how much they can afford. 

"$200 here, $200 there and at the end of the day their doors aren't open and they're already spending more money than anticipated on top of bringing back staff for a slower season," he says. 

"It's juggling people's emotions, with the need for safety, protecting them and protecting their customers. It makes making decisions tough."

Rezplast is also designing new solutions for businesses to keep workers safe with COVID-19 still circulating.

The company's developed a plastic and Velcro system to separate workers who have to ride in the same car and truck and has also come up with a steel turnstile divider for the often crowded cages that bring miners underground.

Spadafora says while the shop is busy, these new pandemic products are not nearly as profitable as their regular industrial business. 

"So right now we're just trying to survive. Bringing in enough to pay our bills," he says. 

"My fear is not what's going on today from a business perspective, it's what's going to come August, September, October."

Rezplast's Sandro Spadafora shows off the new divider his company has developed to keep workers apart in a car or truck. (Erik White/CBC )

Spadafora worries that once every store and office has a shield in place and the big resource companies take a look at how much they spent guarding against COVID-19, that there won't be enough money for the projects he used to bid on. 

Jones figures this boom will also die down in the coming months and has started dealing with the backlog of regular glass jobs, although he hasn't felt comfortable enough yet to send his workers into private homes. 

"We are sticking our necks out for everybody, trying to help everybody. We are frontline workers in a way, so I hope people appreciate it," says Jones. 

"It's dangerous out there."

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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