TORONTO—The Progressive Conservatives say they have a better plan for recycling hazardous and electronic waste in Ontario. They’re proposing to get rid of Waste Diversion Ontario—which was created in legislation by the previous Tory government—as well as controversial eco fees on hazardous waste and electronics that are passed on to consumers.
WDO is an independent corporation which develops recycling programs in conjunction with industry-funded stewardship organizations. Producers and importers pay eco fees to these organizations to administer the programs, which are usually passed on to consumers either at the cash register or built into the ticket price. But the programs for diverting hazardous and electronic waste are losing money and aren’t working, Tory environment critic Michael Harris said Wednesday. He’s proposing to cancel the two programs and Ontario Electronic Stewardship, but keep the more successful blue box and tire recycling programs run by Stewardship Ontario.
Under the plan, the government would only set enforceable targets for diverting waste and monitor them, while allowing producers and importers to decide for themselves how to pay for recycling the products, he said. This free-market model would release businesses from government interference, increase diversion rates and create jobs in the recycling sector, Harris added.
“The Liberal government remains busy tinkering with eco fees and tweaking with failed recycling programs while we ship a third of our province’s waste—or four million tonnes—to the United States every year,” he said.
Stewardship Ontario came under fire in 2010 when, with little warning, eco fees were slapped on thousands of new household items, such as fire extinguishers and laundry detergent. The governing Liberals were forced to drop the fees on the household items amid outrage from both consumers and businesses, but kept the electronics fees. However, taxpayers were still on the hook for the cost of recycling products deemed to be hazardous waste because the government forked over $5 million to keep the program running for a few months.
Then last February, the governing Liberals created a new regulation to ensure producers pay a lump sum for the actual cost of waste disposal, rather than a projected per-unit cost estimated by Stewardship Ontario. The move was aimed at avoiding situations where too much money was collected in one category and too little in another, creating deficits or surpluses where one group is effectively paying another group’s recycling costs.
Environment Minister Jim Bradley agreed that the original legislation, which was passed in 2002 by the previous Tory government, is flawed because it doesn’t ensure the “financial sustainability” of waste diversion programs or adequately protect consumers.
“It’s just not doing the job,” he said in an interview. “We’ve struggled hard to try to work within the parameters of that legislation, but it’s clear the law’s flaws require legislative amendments.”
The Liberals plan to introduce changes to the legislation, but not the kind envisioned by Harris, he said. Producers should be responsible for the recycling costs, but deregulation isn’t the answer, Bradley said. In an unregulated environment, one side could benefit over the other side simply by playing games.
“What we find out in environmental issues is very often, the more you deregulate, the more problems you encounter down the road,” he said. The problem won’t be solved until electronic companies—even those outside of Canada—take responsibility for the costs of recycling, said New Democrat Peter Tabuns.
“The companies that produce the material have to have an incentive to re-engineer, to reduce waste and set things up so that material can be taken back,” he said. “Any other approach is not going to be effective.”