An article from the July 31 edition of the Toronto Sun points up again how the media is exporing the problems associated with government contracting out public policy to a private organization that is neither accountable to the public nor subject to Freedom of Information legislation.
On of the learnings for the current Liberal government in Ontario is that programs developed by private interests need close supervision and scrutiny. There’s nothing inherently wrong with telling industry that it must manage its own wastes and that it can propose a program to do so that meets certain environmental tests. What the government has run into recently is that there isn’t any clear consequence for industry-led programs when they fail to collect the amount of material expected (e.g., electronics waste) or when “eco fees” collected from consumers bear no clear relationship with program costs (e.g., municipal hazardous or special waste program). How Stewardship Ontario itself functions internally and negotiates with certain other organizations (e.g., batteries) is unclear, and how Stewardship Ontario and StewardEdge and Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) interact is also unclear (at least to outsiders).
It seems that sometimes all the environment minister can do is threaten to write an angry letter, kind of like the Hans Blix puppet in Team America threatening the leader of North Korea (before he’s dunked into the shark pool). Yet it was the government that had to take the heat for the problematic hazardous waste eco fees. Someone in WDO or government needs to do a better job overseeing these processes to make sure that the intended public and environmental benefit is achieved.
Here’s the Sun article.
Toronto Sun A4
July 31st 2010 Stewardship Ontario makes confidential deal
ANTONELLA ARTUSO, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief
Stewardship Ontario the government-created body that brought Ontarians the botched eco fee plan has signed a confidential battery recycling deal with an American-based outfit that scored poorly on a ‘mystery shopper’ test.
The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation of Canada (RBRCC), a U.S. non-profit group with a Toronto office, hired well known Liberal lobbyist Bob Lopinski to lobby Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO), the premier’s office and several ministries to accept its proposal to recycle batteries in the province.
According to documents provided by the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, WDO raised concerns about the plan and RBRCC eventually withdrew its offer and negotiated a direct deal with Stewardship Ontario (SO), which falls under the oversight of Waste Diversion Ontario.
In response to QMI Agency questions about the contract, SO spokesperson Amanda Harper Sevonty said the organization would not provide any details.
“As we are a not-for-profit, private company and not a government agency, like any other private company, our relationships, contracts and work with suppliers is confidential and I am not in a position to share that with anyone,” she said in an e-mail Friday.
Ontario Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod said the agency heavily criticized for its roll out of eco fees continues to operate under a veil of secrecy despite being created by the government and currently funded by provincial tax dollars.
Stewardship Ontario has been given the right to levy eco fees that amount to a tax on consumers and the public should have access to information about its contracts to ensure that they are not being unfairly charged, MacLeod said.
“Without a level of transparency, they’re not going to be fully accountable to the public,” she said.
RBRCC, set up by the U.S. battery industry in 1994, initially approached WDO to run the province’s entire battery recycling program with SO as the enforcement mechanism.
The minutes of a WDO board meeting in February say that staff conducted a ‘mystery shopper’ exercise, visiting 53 retail RBRCC rechargeable battery collection sites, and discovered that four locations could not be found at all, 13 directed WDO staff to another program and 13 outright refused to accept batteries for recycling.
Of the 23 locations that would accept batteries, only nine had boxes in visible view to consumers.
RBRCC President Carl Smith said the organization is the most successful product stewardship program in North America.
However, retail collection sites pose problems because staff working in the stores may be unaware of the program.
“So having awareness at a retailer is always going to be a little bit of a hit and miss,” he said. “We’ve run a program across Canada for almost 14 years and have an installed base of sites in Ontario of about 2,000 sites but it’s been always a voluntary program so no one has had to participate.”
Once members of the public and retailers learn more about the mandatory recycling initiative in Ontario, the awareness of staff in stores should improve, he said.
For the last six months, RBRCC has identified preferred collection sites on its web site listings, he said.
Currently, he estimates that 10-12% of all recyclable batteries in Canada are recovered by RBRCC.
Under the contract signed with Stewardship Ontario which includes almost all types of batteries that rate must climb to 25% by 2012 and 45% by 2016, he said.
RBRCC does not charge eco fees to retailers or consumers, and existing members will not see their fees increase, he said.
Lopinski, of Counsel Public Affairs, said it is company policy not to comment on client files.