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What’s in your bag? Inspiring Port Coquitlam business shines a light on paper products in B.C.

Based in Port Coquitlam, Ecovan Packaging offers eco-friendly alternatives for businesses looking to implement environmentally conscious practices through biodegradable, recyclable, and high-quality plastic alternatives
Ecovan's products are more sustainable than most paper bags available on the market. Photo via RgStudio/iStock

The last time you used a paper bag you probably didn’t think much of it.

But more goes into paper bags than you might think, and we’re not talking about your groceries.

Founded in 2023 by Hafiz Sharifzada alongside his family, Ecovan Packaging manufactures bags and packaging solutions for businesses small and large, including retail and grocery stores seeking eco-friendly and sustainable packaging options within Metro Vancouver. In addition to being ethically sourced from non-GMO trees in Canada, Ecovan’s products are made with water-based glue and without the use of chlorine or toxic inks, making them higher quality and more sustainable than most bags available on the market.

But what makes their bags so compelling isn’t just what they’re made of, but how they came to be. 

Amid the turmoil of war in his country, Sharifzada and his family were forced to flee Afghanistan in 1993. Packed into a car, they sought refuge, but their journey took a tragic turn when a devastating car accident claimed the lives of nine family members in a single day, leaving only Mohammad and his eldest daughter, Arazoo, as survivors.

Reflecting on that challenging time, Arazoo, who works alongside her father at Ecovan, shares, "It’s hard to talk about. It was a difficult period for everybody, but more than anything, I want our story to be a ray of inspiration for others."

Sharifzada worked tirelessly to rebuild his family’s life in Kyrgyzstan, where he established a soft-drink production company. 10 years later, an opportunity eventually became available for him to move to Canada with his family and establish roots to start anew. Sharifzada immigrated to Canada with little savings and earned a modest living, working various jobs including distributing newspapers and fixing cars. Sharifzada decided he wanted to build a legacy and establish a business for his family, and in 2020, like for many Canadians, everything changed again.

Hafiz Sharifzada, founder of Ecovan Packaging. Photo via Ecovan Packaging

After witnessing how global supply chain issues were impacting the lives of Canada’s small businesses and citizens, during the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns, Sharifzada began to wonder why so many small Canadian businesses were buying so many products overseas rather than here at home.

When the plastic bag ban went into effect in 2022, there was limited regulation regarding the quality of the paper products intended to replace them. Through research and visits to manufacturing plants overseas, Sharifzada discovered that many of the paper bags used for packaging groceries or wrapping lunches are not only manufactured abroad but may also not meet food safety standards. 

Serving local businesses throughout Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, Ecovan offers paper bags for a variety of different markets including retail, restaurant, bakery, and grocery stores. All of their business so far has been earned by going door-to-door, meeting with other business owners face-to-face, and participating in local events. Their paper bags can be customized per request to meet varying business needs, including custom design and printing using water-based inks. You can learn more about their products and receive a quote for paper packaging by visiting their website HERE.

If every picture has 1,000 words then every bag, in this case, has a story. After everything Sharifzada and his family have been through, Ecovan is about more than just bags or business. Ecovan looks to serve local businesses, provide job opportunities and give back to the country they call home.

So next time, turn that bag upside down to see where it’s from, it might just be more interesting than what’s inside.