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Haz-waste eco fees an endless train wreck


The forthcoming October/November edition of Solid Waste & Recycling magazine will feature an editorial by me about the policy fiasco that was Ontario’s stewardship program for household hazardous and special wastes. The mess led to the demotion of a minister and, incredibly, government forking over $8 million to further subsidize the municipal collection and diversion from landfill of industry’s toxic crap, all because industry (and retailers) incensed the public by implementing confusing “eco fees” to offset its own program costs. But the aftermath continues, like a train wreck that keeps on going in slow motion.
The following article from the The Ottawa Citizen does a great job summing things up.
Collected eco fees stuck in limbo
Government, industry, retailers seem unclear what do with funds from scrapped program
By Lee Greenberg, The Ottawa Citizen, October 17, 2010
Days after Ontario scrapped its controversial eco fees, confusion reigns over the spoils of the short-lived program, as retailers, industry and the government all appear uncertain as to the destination of unspent funds.
The fees, designed to fund a recycling and disposal program for hazardous materials, were introduced July 1 on a wide range of items. Those products included pharmaceuticals, compact fluorescent light bulbs, household beach, camping fuel, caulking, solvents, fire extinguishers and thousands of other products.
The eco fees ranged from pennies to $6.66 per item.
Most consumers were caught off guard by the fees. Both government and the industry-funded group running the program, Stewardship Ontario, decided against a public education campaign to explain the new levies.
The government suspended eco fees on July 20 in the face of considerable public anger.
This week, Environment Minister John Wilkinson announced an end to all but a limited number of eco fees.
Rather than bringing clarity to the situation, however, that move now appears to have prompted more questions.
All sides appear unclear what to do with money collected in the first 19 days of July.
Retail giant Canadian Tire, which came under fire in July for its sloppy implementation of its eco fees, claimed Friday it had returned all of those fees to Stewardship Ontario.
When told by a journalist that Stewardship Ontario disputed that statement, a spokeswoman corrected it. Adrienne Alexander said both the calculations and the return of the funds “are in progress right now.” “Our product stewardship team is going to contact SO (Stewardship Ontario) today to ensure that they are aware of where things stand on our end,” Alexander, manager of corporate communications for Canadian Tire, wrote in an e-mail.
She would not say how much money Canadian Tire collected in eco fees.
Similarly, The Home Depot, which offered customers an initial refund on fees paid in July, says it plans on remitting the balance to Stewardship Ontario.
However, Stewardship Ontario says it wants nothing to do with the funds. The organization collects fees from the manufacturers of the products. Those producers then typically charge retailers who pass the costs on to consumers.
“We have no involvement in eco fees,” said spokeswoman Amanda Harper Sevonty. “We don’t govern eco fees, we don’t set eco fees. So we’re really not in a position to advise retailers as to how to handle them or what to do with them.” Harper Sevonty said Stewardship Ontario is not planning on accepting any of the money collected from consumers during the first three weeks of the program.
“We’re not able to accept it,” she said. “Quite honestly, I’m not exactly sure of that process. If a retailer has collected that fee, then that goes back to the steward (producer).” Wilkinson, whose predecessor John Gerretsen was demoted as a result of his handling of the issue, refused an interview request to discuss the confusion.
“I’m not sure he’s the best person to talk to on this,” said an aide, Grahame Rivers.
Wilkinson’s office referred the issue back to Stewardship Ontario.
New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns said Wilkinson’s response demonstrates a lack of leadership.
“It’s his responsibility,” Tabuns said in an interview. “The Liberal government set this whole mess rolling. Now that everyone’s got a problem to deal with, they can’t just turn their backs on it. They have to resolve it.” Tabuns would like to see the unremitted eco fees sent to municipalities, who are again in charge of disposing and recycling fire extinguishers, rechargeable batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, needles, mercury-containing devices and pharmaceuticals.
The government said it will give municipalities $8 million to cover their costs.
Certain eco fees will remain in place. They cover items introduced in 2008, including paint, batteries, pesticides and pressurized containers.
Environment officials would not say how much money was collected from consumers in the limited lifespan of the July eco fees.
“This was an industry operated program,” Wilkinson’s office said in a statement.


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