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Canada’s major grocery chains slow to tackle the mounting problem of plastic waste

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When you throw your food’s plastic packaging into a blue bin you probably don’t expect it to be exported across the world to be dumped or burned. But that’s exactly what could happen.

Exclusive images provided by Greenpeace show mountains of plastic packaging dumped next to palm plantations, near waterways and burned on the roadside in industrial areas to the south of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia imports plastic waste from all over the world, including Canada. Much of it is recycled, but some of the materials may be discarded due to poor quality, contamination or degradation from being improperly stored outside in the tropical climate.

Among the piles were pieces of plastic that came from Canadian grocery stores including a bag from Sobeys, a milk bag from Nova Scotia dairy Scotsburn and a burger bun bag from Ben’s Bakery.

Despite being the source of a huge amount of plastic packaging, Loblaws and Sobeys, the two largest Canadian-owned supermarket chains, don’t have targets — or at least none they were willing to share with Marketplace — to reduce the amount of plastic they sell in their stores.

A milk bag from Nova Scotia sits among the piles of plastic waste Greenpeace investigators documented in Jenjarom, Malaysia. (Greenpeace)

“Things need to change,” said Sylvain Charlebois, an expert in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

He says single-use plastics such as those used for food packaging are becoming increasingly controversial and that “companies will need to comply with what the public is beginning to expect of them.”

As Marketplace discovered, that process is much further along in the U.K. compared to Canada. Retailers there have begun to take major steps toward removing plastic from their stores.

‘We took action’

Iceland, a U.K.-based chain that specializes in frozen products, is the first supermarket in the world to commit to removing all plastic from its own products within five years.

Morrisons, another large British chain, has banned single-use plastic bags and allows customers to bring reusable containers for meat and fish. The company has also removed packaging from fruit and vegetables on a trial basis in some stores.

Andrew Thornton, owner of Thornton’s Budgens in London, has taken drastic steps to eliminate as much plastic packaging as possible from items sold in his grocery store. (CBC)

Thornton’s Budgens, a branch of the Budgens chain located in London’s Camden borough, has gone even further, becoming one of the first supermarkets in the world to introduce completely plastic-free zones throughout the store.

In 10 weeks, the store eliminated the use of plastic packaging for nearly 2,000 products including fruit, vegetables, bacon, fish, baked goods, cheese and takeout food.

“We are trashing the planet, and for me, plastic has become … one of the things that’s wrong with our society today,” store owner Andrew Thornton said.

“We took action because we could and we felt we could make a difference.”

Fruit and vegetables are packaged with compostable beechwood netting made from sawmill offcuts or have no packaging at all. Bakery products are sold as is or packaged in paper, and cheese, fish and some meats are wrapped in wax paper or compostable cellulose wrap.

“Our customers love it,” said Thornton, who plans to have the whole store “virtually plastic-free” in three years.

WATCH: British anti-plastic campaigner Frankie Gillard is shocked to see how much plastic is used to package groceries in Canada.

British anti-plastic campaigner Frankie Gillard is shocked to see how much plastic is used to package groceries in Canada. 0:56

But to take those further steps, he says he will need co-operation from major suppliers like Nestle, Unilever and Coca-Cola to find alternative packaging for their products.

Frankie Gillard of the environmental group A Plastic Planet, who oversaw the project at Thornton’s Budgens, says big supermarkets have the power to get major brands to switch to more sustainable packaging methods.

“You basically say, ‘We’re going to de-list your product otherwise,'” she said.

“They have the power to make or break a brand. So, of course, they have the power to say how it should be packaged.”

China closes its doors

If public opinion could help push the grocery giants in that direction, those mountains of plastic waste in Malaysia might provide an added sense of urgency.

Until recently, for much of the developed world, recycling meant shipping plastic to China, where it was bought as a commodity and processed cheaply to be used in new consumer products.

Western countries had grown used to this solution rather than re-processing all of their materials at home. Nearly half of the world’s plastic trash has been sent to China since 1991, according to a University of Georgia study.

But this all changed in January 2018, when China closed its doors to much of this waste as part of an effort to reduce pollution in the country. The University of Georgia study estimates the move could lead to 111 million tonnes of global plastic waste having nowhere to go by 2030.

Plastic waste is piled next to a waterway near Kuala Lumpur. (Greenpeace)  

Marketplace contacted municipal waste managers in cities across Canada to find out what impact the change has had one year on. While the challenges varied across the country, many municipalities are still facing major headaches.

“It’s a buyer’s market out there. We’re not selling material anymore, we’re paying people to take it,” said Matt Kelleher, manager of solid waste for the City of Halifax.

The business of finding markets for Canada’s plastic waste has become “hyper-competitive,” he said. Kelleher wouldn’t reveal the destination for plastic collected in Halifax’s blue bin program for fear the city could be undercut by other municipalities.

Sharon Howland, head of program management for the City of Calgary, said the municipality used to send 50 per cent of its recyclables to China. Calgary still hasn’t found a destination for some materials, including those plastic clamshells used to package things like cherry tomatoes, salads and berries.

“They’re just sitting in containers with nowhere to go,” she said.

Sobeys sells many vegetables packaged in plastic. (CBC)

Toronto and Montreal have been less negatively affected by China’s decision. Waste officials in those cities told Marketplace they work with recyclers based in Ontario and Quebec.

However, both cities are still struggling to find markets for what is known as film plastic, which is used for shopping bags, bread bags and dry cleaning bags.

“Film is a problematic one, as all of it was going to China before,” said Nadine Kerr, manager of processing and resource management for the City of Toronto.

And it is this type of plastic — including some apparently shipped from Canada — that Greenpeace found dumped in Malaysia.

Malaysian government statistics provided to Greenpeace show a sharp increase in global plastic exports to that country since China introduced its new restrictions. In the first six months of 2018, Canada shipped more than 16,000 tonnes of plastic to Malaysia.

‘Overwhelmed’

Reuben Muni, Greenpeace’s Malaysia program manager, says the country’s recycling industry is “overwhelmed by the huge influx of imported plastic waste.”

He says the global recycling system is broken and that fixing it will require the co-operation of the wealthy countries that produce so much of the waste and the countries that import it.

Since mass production of plastic began in the 1950s, the world has produced 8.3 billion tonnes of it. In Canada, just 11 per cent of plastic gets recycled, and globally that number drops to nine per cent.

Plastic has been found in the Arctic, in the deepest trenches of the oceans, in the air and in our food. By 2050, it is believed there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans per tonnage than fish.

Unlike materials such as aluminum and glass, plastic can only be re-processed a finite number of times. This means even the plastic we do manage to recycle will eventually end up as waste. Once discarded, it takes hundreds of years to break down.

A University of California, Santa Barbara study estimates that 40 per cent of plastic is used for packaging.

But reducing the amount we use as consumers is difficult when retailers provide few alternatives.

Plastic everywhere

The shelves at Canadian grocery giants Loblaws and Sobeys are filled with plastic-wrapped products.

Fruit, vegetables, eggs, bakery products and even coconuts are wrapped in plastic packaging. Meat and fish are wrapped in difficult-to-recycle foam trays, and ready-made takeout food is sold in black plastic trays that aren’t accepted for recycling in most of Canada.

Loblaws and Sobeys customers reveal how much plastic packaging comes with their groceries.

Loblaws and Sobeys customers reveal how much plastic packaging comes with their groceries. 0:57

Both stores also still provide customers with single-use plastic shopping bags, although Loblaws says it provides a billion fewer bags a year since introducing a small fee in 2009.

Marketplace reached out to both Loblaws and Sobeys to find out their targets to reduce plastic packaging in their stores.

A look at takeout options at a Loblaws store. The black trays are particularly difficult to recycle. (CBC)

In a statement, Loblaws did not reveal any specific targets, but the company did say it recognizes that “plastic packaging is an area that needs considerable attention” and that it will take “incremental steps” to tackle it.

The grocery giant says it has reduced total packaging by 4.9 million kilograms since 2009, but didn’t provide a specific figure for plastic.

Sobeys did not respond to repeated requests to share any steps the chain is taking to cut down on plastic.

‘The big change’

As for Thornton in London, he hopes the big stores will be inspired to follow his lead.

“If we … can do this in 10 weeks, what could a Loblaws, or a Tesco, or a Walmart do if they put all their resources behind it?” he said.

“That’s when the big change happens.”

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St Laurent Volvo and Land Rover Ottawa: 10 reasons to avoid this dealership

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St. Laurent Volvo and Land Rover Ottawa dealership have been at the centre of numerous negative reviews by customers. The dealership has left numerous customers dissatisfied with their services due to their sheer unprofessionalism and poor management.

Now, many customers are advising others to steer clear of the dealership either for purchasing or servicing their Volvo—or any other luxury vehicle.

The Volvo brand is known for its high-end services, but the St. Laurent Volvo and Land Rover Ottawa dealership has shown contempt in how it treats customers since their management takeover. Their poor communication, inflated prices, empty promises and late delivery timelines have been the highlight of most customer reviews of the dealership.

“If I had to describe my experience with St Laurent Volvo in one word it would be ‘nightmarish’. The service I received was night and day different from any other Volvo dealership I’ve been to. It is impressively poorly run,” said Sam, a dissatisfied customer who visited the dealership.

Therefore, if you live in Ottawa and need to either buy, service or repair a luxury vehicle, here are some reasons why you should avoid the St Laurent Volvo:

  1. Poor reception

Walking into the dealership alone is enough deterrent as the reception at this dealership is far from top-notch.

Customers who walk into the dealership aren’t greeted to a warm welcome but have to wait endlessly before they can get attended to.

“First I spent 30 mins waiting for a salesman and then left. The second time I spent 15min waiting. During that time, I read these reviews and realized I was making a mistake. Even if I got the car of my dreams it sounds like it comes with the service of my nightmares,” said Rudy Dunno after paying a visit to the dealership.

When customer service representatives are not trained properly, they tend to keep customers waiting for a long time as is the case at St. Laurent Volvo Ottawa.

  1. Inaccessibility

Contacting representatives at St. Laurent Volvo Ottawa is quite very difficult due to how unprofessional their employees are.

Customers have complained about how they have to endure days and even weeks of no communication from the staff at the dealership. This is particularly frustrating for customers especially when they have already paid for the service.

“Receptionist beyond rude… I called to find out the payout of my vehicle and nobody would call me back, had to call 3 times. Never again buying a vehicle from this particular dealership,” said William Delton.

  1. Ignored Better Business Bureau complaint

There is a Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaint filed against the dealership by a customer who had dropped of their Volvo at the dealership early September this year.

However, till date, the BBB complaint has yet to be responded to, showing just how unprofessional the dealership has become.

“It is my humble opinion that this dealership is a shitshow, and I would be highly sceptical about any positive reviews posted based upon our experience which you will see in our very extensive BBB report,” said the claimant.

  1. Dishonesty and failed promises

Making a promising and failing to keep it is one of the major fails in customer service and this dealership is quite notorious for this.

“For weeks they kept promising us they would get the vehicle checked. Cliff and Frank multiple times promised to inspect our vehicle and didn’t,” said the disgruntled BBB claimant whose car was unattended to for almost two months.

Failure to keep promises made to customers is a huge red flag for prospective customers and a sign of irresponsibility.  

  1. Late delivery times

When a problem takes longer than expected to solve, it becomes harmful to the reputation of the business. This dealership can keep a customer’s vehicle unattended to for weeks and without any form of inspection being carried out.

Ramin Mesgarlou expressed his disappointment with the customer service at the dealership after they kept his vehicle for about a year just to fix a suspension fault.

“They kept my truck for about a year to fix a suspension fault. No less than 7 times they said my truck was fixed and it wasn’t .. in fact, the first time it wasn’t even touched,” said Ramin.

  1. Incompetent technicians

There have been numerous online complaints on how technicians at the St. Laurent Volvo dealership fail to diagnose the problem accurately and end up causing more damage to the car.

For instance, Vincent Gradeau had taken his car to the dealership when he noticed some problems with his car’s alternator. After waiting for days to know the status of his car, he eventually called, and they claimed to have fixed the problem, but the car was still problematic.

In fact, Vincent’s car now had a faulty alternator belt— a problem that never existed when he took his car to the dealership.

“The next day comes, they finally call me and tell my car is ready. A few weeks later, my alternator belt started to make a lot of noise. I wait a few weeks hoping the belt will tighten up, but without luck,” said Vincent.

  1. Careless service technicians

Despite how expensive the luxury vehicles that are driven into this dealership are, service technicians are still very careless with how they handle the cars brought in for servicing or repairs.

Guy Lagace took his Land Rover for service only to end up with various scratches and dents that were not originally there when he dropped off his vehicle. Even after insisting the dealership fixed the new damage, they still show a lot of incompetence.

“One week later I again asked to pick up my vehicle and again scratches not repaired but a poor attempt on buffing it, so much it caused more damage (paint burnishing) and left my vehicle full of buffing compound,” said Lagace.

You would expect that your expensive car be handled with care when left and the dealership but that’s not the case with St. Laurent Volvo.

  1. Inflated prices

This dealership gave a quote of almost $3000 to install an after-market Catalytic Convertor that cost less than half that price ($1400) at other similar dealerships.

Failure to keep it fair and transparent with customers is a major reason why you should avoid this dealership.

  1. Suspicious practices

From resisting to issue a formal invoice to racist behaviour towards certain customers, this dealership has been shown to involve in shady practices that shouldn’t be associated with a dealership of its size—or any dealership at all. 

“Then they resisted issuing a formal invoice for contemplated repairs like they are some shady garage,” said a BBB claimant.

The BBB claimant had been requesting for a formal invoice for weeks and when they eventually issued one, they refused to continue with the repairs. Another customer also claims to have been a target of racist behaviour from the staff.

“I have never met such an insolent salesperson who keeps pushing potential customers to other stores. I guess she may have a racist attitude because I reviewed the previous comments,” said Elain Luo, who came to buy a Volvo XC90 at the dealership with her husband.

  1. Poorly managed facility

There is a clear lack of quality standards and accountability from the staff at the St. Laurent Volvo and Land Rover Ottawa dealership. The environment has been made very toxic for customers with rude employees and an unkempt service department.

“Wow, I must say, I saw some poor part department in my life, but this is the worst really. First, it is a dump. It was so messy, just incredible. The gentleman at the counter seems totally lost. In all, I what I am certain is, I will never ever return to this dealership,” said Claude Brunette after a visit to the dealership.

In conclusion, car dealerships always play an important role in the lifespan and ownership experience of your vehicle. Therefore, it is necessary to take your time to evaluate your options and choose a dealership that guarantees you premium services that match and exceed your expectations. 

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St Laurent Volvo: Deeps Dossanjh runs dealership into the ground with Better Business Bureau complaints

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Once the most popular and revered dealership in Ottawa, the St. Laurent Volvo is struggling to leave a positive impression on customers.

Currently managed by Deeps Dossanjh, the St. Laurent Volvo Ottawa dealership is now riddled with numerous complaints by dissatisfied customers due to their unprofessionalism and sketchy practices. This damage to their reputation by the new management is threatening to run the business into the ground as many customers are now advising others to avoid them either for purchasing or servicing their Volvo—or any other luxury vehicle.

“What has gone wrong at Land Rover Ottawa! When you pay top price for a vehicle you expect a quality customer service and, until recently, that used to be the case,” said Alf, a long time customer of the dealership.

The sheer negligence being shown by Dossanjh becomes clearer in how he has willfully ignored a Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaint filed against the dealership.

“It is my humble opinion that this dealership is a shitshow, and I would be highly sceptical about any positive reviews posted based upon our experience which you will see in our very extensive BBB report,” said the BBB claimant.

According to this claimant, he dropped off his Volvo at the dealership on Sept 1, 2020, for repairs, to later get it repainted before winter. However, for several weeks, he kept getting empty promises on when the vehicle would be checked and eventually got frustrated by the dealership.

Since Dossanjh took over leadership at the St. Laurent Volvo, the quality of service rendered by the dealership has continued to nosedive, said the claimant.

“I have been going to St Laurent Volvo for many years and experienced excellent client services.  But the new franchise owners have no respect for Volvo owners or any clients,” he noted.

The Google review section of the St. Laurent Volvo and Land Rover Ottawa dealership which are both managed by Dossanjh, are filled with various other complaints from disappointed customers. There are various similarities in each customer’s complaints as they border on poor customer service, terrible communication, late delivery timelines and unscrupulous practices.

“Receptionist beyond rude… I called to find out the payout of my vehicle and nobody would call me back, had to call 3 times. Never again buying a vehicle from this particular dealership,” said William Delton in his review of the dealership.

John Avudria, another disappointed customer, spoke of how ineffectual the service department at the dealership when he had issues with his Range Rover Evoque.  

“In 3 months, these guys could not figure a problem that seems to have been with remote key sensors. I had to call Jaguar and Land Rover head office in New Jersey,” said Avudria.

The consistent bad reviews from customers about their poor services shows that Dossanjh is incapable of running this dealership and is bound to run it to the ground if nothing changes soon.

“We just experienced the worse customer service in the history of owning a car!” wrote Victoria Wnek in a review.

Victoria recently moved to Ottawa and needed to get a first-year oil change, fix her rattled speaker and update the software on her Jaguar which was still under warranty. However, after contacting Dossanjh’s dealership, she was met with a series of disappointments—from ignored calls to utter disrespect from the manager.

Eventually, Victoria had to take her car back after several weeks of time wasted going back and forth with the manager who eventually declined to fix the car.

“He wasted our time … and sent us a message that he doesn’t want our business. After being a repeat customer of Jaguar, we are extremely disappointed. These people simply do not care!” she said.

There have also been claims of racism targeted towards certain customers by employees at the Dossanjh’s dealership. 

Elain Luo came to buy a Volvo XC90 at the St. Laurent Volvo dealership with her husband and received a very rude welcome by who she describes as “an insolent salesperson who keeps pushing potential customers to other stores.”

According to Luo, the salesperson may have equally been racist based on her attitude towards her and other Asian customer reviews she had read online.

“I reviewed the previous comments, and another Asian customer also had the worst experience with the same young lady, Alanna Noakes!!! I really felt bad after leaving there,” Luo said. 

St. Laurent Volvo dealership has continued to display unprofessionalism in how they treat their customers and this is a complete deviation from what is expected in luxury dealerships.

“I was left on hold by the receptionist for nearly 15 minutes before finally having the misfortune of speaking to a female on the service department that left me feeling my custom was an inconvenience,” said Alf in his review.

With the amount of negativity ascribed with St. Laurent Volvo, it is only a matter of time before they seize to be operational.

“We are going to ask all Volvo owners who have reported a bad experience online of St Laurent Volvo to collective report to the local Better Business Bureau,” said the BBB claimant.

There’s bound to be more complaints filed against them in the future with the BBB claimant urging more customers to report their bad experiences at the hands of St Laurent Volvo Ottawa.

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Better Business Bureau complaint shows St-Laurent Volvo is getting worse

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Some businesses assume that most customers would just ignore bad customer service and not care to do anything about it. While that may be true in some instances, more customers today are now telling others about their bad experiences online, especially with the internet being easily accessible to everyone.

In the past few years, St. Laurent Volvo Ottawa has come under heavy criticism by customers over its poor services and now, more customers are sharing their bad experience with the dealership online as a deterrent to others.

Deeps Dossanjh manages the dealership which has now been labelled as one of the worst places to buy or repair a car in Ottawa as the negative reviews that continue mount. Customers expect that a reputable brand like Volvo should have dealerships that provide timely and professional services with staff that are courteous and honest. However, that seems to be the direct opposite of the services offered by St. Laurent Volvo.

“Very bad dealership. Salespeople bad, service desk at this dealership is godawful and I would never EVER buy another Volvo again,” said Dr. Smythe, a disgruntled customer

While reviews can vary from person to person and sometimes aren’t a complete representation of what might have transpired but with Dossanjh’s dealership, the constant complain over their poor services is worth taking a look at.

The negative reviews left by customers at Dossanjn’s dealership are mostly centred around the poor quality of services being rendered and their unprofessional practices. In her review, Steph narrated how she took her few months old Range Rover Evoque to the dealership after noticing a problem with her breaks only to be treated in an unprofessional manner.

“They have to have the worst service for a high-end dealer I have ever experienced. To have to wait 6 months to get them to fix something after I purchased a brand new vehicle is ridiculous,” said Steph after the dealership stalled in fixing her problem.

“We have purchased three very expensive vehicles from this dealer within the last year and will have to look elsewhere when it’s time for a trade. They don’t care about your business after they get your money. Extremely disappointed,” she added.

For a dealership of this size, their services are night and day different from what is expected and there’s even a Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaint filed against the dealership.

“It is my humble opinion that this dealership is a shitshow, and I would be highly sceptical about any positive reviews posted based upon our experience which you will see in our very extensive BBB report,” said the BBB claimant.

The claimant had dropped off his Volvo at the dealership early September this year for repairs and later get it repainted before winter. However, for several weeks, he kept getting empty promises on when the vehicle would be checked, leading to a very frustrating experience.

“For weeks they kept promising us they would get the vehicle checked. They didn’t inspect it until sometime in October,” said the claimant.

In Ramin Mesgarlou’s case, his truck was kept at the dealership for almost a year just to fix a suspension fault.

“They kept my truck for about a year to fix a suspension fault. No less than 7 times they said my truck was fixed and it wasn’t .. in fact, the first time it wasn’t even touched yet they charged my AMEX $3,000,” Ramin revealed.

The decline in the quality of service rendered by St. Laurent Volvo appears to have nosedived since Dossanjh took over leadership, said the claimant.

“I have been going to St Laurent Volvo for many years and experienced excellent client services.  But the new franchise owners have no respect for Volvo owners or any clients,” he noted.

The Google review section of the dealership is filled with other complaints from several angry customers, all with similar complaints on poor customer service, terrible communication, late delivery timelines and shady practices.

“Receptionist beyond rude… I called to find out the payout of my vehicle and nobody would call me back, had to call 3 times. Never again buying a vehicle from this particular dealership,” said William Delton in his review of the dealership.

Another customer, Kelly, equally experienced how staff at the dealership ignored her calls for weeks and never even bothered to return them.

“Called for a service and it went to voicemail and left a message three weeks ago still no callback. They will need to really start working on their customer service skills,” said Kelly.

Dossanjh’s dealership appears to be reaching new heights in bad service with one customer tagging the dealership “the worst customer service in history”. There have also been claims of racism and extortion carried out by employees at Dossanjh’s dealership. 

Elain Luo, who came to buy a Volvo XC90 at the dealership with her husband, said the attendant who welcomed them at the dealership was exhibiting racist tendencies.

“She seemed unwilling to do business with us and I guess she may have a racist attitude because I reviewed the previous comments, and another Asian customer also had the worst experience with the same young lady,” she said.

According to a BBB claimant, the dealership charged him double the rate for the repair and installation of a Catalytic Convertor when similar repairs had been done for a cheaper rate on another Volvo elsewhere.

“St Laurent Volvo was seeking to charge us an inflated price of $2800 for a convertor when I paid $1400 before on a separate vehicle,” said the BBB claimant.

The dealership is still yet to respond to the BBB complaint filed against them and has shown no signs of improving on their services. Now, customers are advising others to steer clear of the dealership either for purchasing or servicing their Volvo—or any other luxury vehicle.

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