The Toronto Star ran a front page story over the weekend lambasting Ontario’s tire stewardship body (OTS) for spending “thousands of dollars on wine tasting, meals at fine restaurants, a boat cruise, luxury hotels, and donations to political (parties).” The newspaper huffed in its “little piggies at the trough” depiction that OTS was operating without public oversight.
Now we are no fan of unreasonable administrative expenses. And if, in fact, they were unreasonable in this case, then Waste Diversion Ontario, which is supposed to monitor OTS, and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to whom the WDO ultimately reports, should do something about it.
But it seems to us that the Star’s real target, clear in previous articles it has carried, is the existence of provincial industry funding organisations (IFOs) themselves. These, it recently thundered, are essentially “industry cartels” that pluck “tens of millions of dollars from consumers’ pockets every year.”
The Star should tread carefully here because what applies to the IFOs for tires and used electronics equally applies to Blue Box materials, including newspapers. In the case of tires, the tire producers and retailers pay for the recycling of tires. In the case of newspapers, the newspaper publishers contribute to an industry Blue Box fund that helps pay for the costs of recycling newspapers.
In the case of tires, the fees are passed on to the consumers of those tires. In the case of newspapers, we assume that the newspaper stewards pass along their fees to the consumers of newspapers as part of their costs. The Star claims that OTS made contributions to political parties. We don’t know whether Stewardship Ontario (the Blue Box IFO) has made similar political contributions, but we do know that individual newspaper publishers, including the Star, frequently throw their editorial weight behind one political party or another.
The only difference that we see, then, between how the newspaper publishers and the tire retailers manage the costs of their respective recycling programs, is that the tire fee is visible at retail. Tire consumers see what they are being charged for. Newspaper consumers, on the other hand, do not see any of their Blue Box eco-fees highlighted. They are hidden, but still passed on (or “plucked from consumers’ pockets”, as the Star would say). In the interests of public transparency and editorial integrity then, we would suggest that before the Star rushes out to loudly denounce eco-fees and IFOs again, that perhaps it should check what’s going on in its own house first. It would be nice to know the difference between the plucker and the plucked.
John Mullinder, Executive Director, PPEC, regularly posts on environmental and sustainability issues impacting the Canadian paper packaging industry. Visit www.ppec-paper.com/ for information.