Ontario takes a second stab at funding household hazardous waste
collection. For decades, Canadian regulators have been trying to
find ways to keep household hazardous waste out of landfills and
toilets. The problem is that these wastes are expensive to collect
and even more expensive to properly dispose of. Neither the
province nor municipalities want to pay the mounting costs out of
general taxpayer revenue. Instead, there is a strong consensus that
hazardous goods should be dealt with through extended producer
responsibility (EPR) programs. Such programs are already in place
in many countries for many types of products. Ontario has an EPR
for tires, for electronic waste, for paint, etc.
In principle, an EPR should send the right signals to the right
people. The people who make and buy hazardous products should pay
for their ultimate disposal, rather than dumping that cost on to
the general public. If paying the full cost of legal disposal makes
these products less attractive to consumers, so much the better,
and less-hazardous products should gain market share.
This is the theory behind Waste Diversion Ontario, a
special-purpose organization set up to design and run EPR programs
for a wide variety of hazardous wastes. WDO collects fees from
end-users and uses the money to subsidize hazardous waste
collection and recycling. Generally, the programs have run
smoothly, if not perfectly– less electronic waste, for
example, is being collected than had been hoped.
On July 1, 2010, WDO began collecting an Eco fee on thousands of
hazardous consumer products under the Municipal Hazardous or
Special Waste Program. This went anything but smoothly. No one
seemed to understand what the fee was for or how it worked.
Consumers balked at yet another charge that looked like a tax.
Retailers revolted. It was particularly bad planning to have
introduced the fee on same day the HST kicked in.
On July 19, Canadian Tire announced that it would not charge eco
fees to its customers until a better system was in place.
There had been far too many mistakes made in charging the fees
(e.g., fee discrepancies, over-charging customers), and customers
were blaming the retailer.
The eco fee structure imposed by Waste Diversion Ontario, a
government agency, was complex, with interpretation left largely up
to retailers – and leading to inconsistencies. Also on
July 19, Stewardship Ontario, seemingly surprised that consumers
wanted to know more about how eco fees work, announced that it
would work towards making eco fees accurate, consistent and
On July 20, Garretsen announced that he had suspended the fees
on most hazardous consumer products for 90 days.
The Ministry of the Environment will use the time to work with
Stewardship Ontario retailers and consumers to redesign the system.
In the interim, taxpayers will pay for the expanded waste diversion
program –$4-$5 million for the 90 day consultation period
alone. I hope the money isn't coming from the ministry's
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