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The Eco Fee (what just happened?)

Over the past three weeks the Ontario government introduced an eco fee, failed to explain it to anyone, and reeling from the uproar, suspended it for 90 days while it re-groups. We weren’t warned reasonably that the fee was coming, and the government did a very poor job of explaining what they were doing, and consumers and retailers alike were left largely confused.

Are we going to handle environmentally sensitive products in a different way now than we did last month? Or was the idea to penalize consumers for buying products that are difficult to recycle or environmentally ugly? I’m not sure. Maybe we need to find a way to pump more money into the safe recyling and disposal of some products. I don’t know. I’m not against the concept and a public debate on the issue may be in order. Simply sliding the fee in without adequate information or explanation was simply arrogant. The Ontario government needs to show taxpayers what’s wrong with the current state, what they want to change and how they think we can pay for it – in some kind of clear and reasonable way. Maybe nothing has changed and it’s just a tax grab. Since nobody seems to have been set up to answer questions, I don’t think anybody much knows what was going on.

Canadian Tire may have made the PR coup of the year by putting  the brakes on and apologizing to consumers.  Good for them. Their actions along with the media uproar (former politico turned radio host John Tory has been having a field day with this issue on his drive-home radio show) may have forced the government’s hand. Meanwhile, I haven’t heard what Premier McGuinty has to say on the issue? Where is he on this?

What do you think? Did you know the fee was coming? Were you OK with the rollout? Did you understand what you were going to pay more for and why?


  1. sp

    Kind of like the way the BC Liberals slipped in the HST without letting us know why or what’s it about. Only now (after the tax has gone into effect) have they started an information campaign about why the tax is “good” for British Columbians.

    This is why the Stop the HST campaign took off. People were outraged that the Liberals were introducing a tax that they promised they wouldn’t, but then again they also said there would be no new casinos…

  2. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    This whole issue is likely to expose some serious rot in the system. For starters it is important to understand that the government did not impose these fees. Rather they have set up what amounts to an independent non government agency which ostensibly had responsibility to oversee recycling, whatever the hell that means.Then they gave this group (named “stewardship ontario” as any group of malnourished left wing treehuggers should be named) the power to levee fees (aka taxes) to sustain their own operation. Prior to this group existing things that could be recycled were recycled. Now though this recycling is managed and that costs cash and the way to raise cash is of course to take it from the public. The government has no interest at all in funding this group or they would have simply set up a government department to oversee recycling. Lets face it, if they manned up and said hey gang it costs a fortune to suddenly manage the hell out of all this recycling give us cash the average taxpayer might have told them to screw off. The answer of course was to get creative and name the cash an “eco fee”. Everyone is onside with eco these days, along with organic and vegetarian so this method of disguising the tax looked like a gimme. As near as I can tell they hit the manufacturers with the tax. The manufacturers arent dummies and they werent about to eat the cost nor were they about to bury it in the price to the retailers so they broke it out as a separate item. Well the retailers werent about to let the manufacturers make them look like bad guys by raising their prices so they charged the fee as a separate charge. I may well be wrong here but I have the suspicion that stewardship ontario just expected the money to somehow flow in with the end consumer not really knowing that he was ultimately footing the bill. That is the only reasonable explanation for not telling consumers what was happening. Surprise! Since a tax by any other name still smells like a tax the government started taking heat for something they didnt actually do. Hence the pressure to end the thing.

    I totally disagree with the concept of the government farming out this responsibility. I also seriously disagree with the concept of forcing people to pay to recycle a product which may never be recycled. This seems to be fairly common practice for governments though. I once owned a business in Barrie. I was charged by the liter for water which I guess was fine but then I was charged an equal amount as a water purification fee. That is just wrong. 95% of the water I purchased was used to extract heat from a huge cooling compressor and it was returned to the system as pure as it was when I got it. I still had to pay the 100% fee to purify it with no appeal and that is wrong. The stuff hit the fan with the eco fee deal over these miniature flourescent light bulbs.When they were first introduced they were the best idea since sliced bread and the government handed out coupons to help folks buy lots. The government even passed laws prohibiting the old style bulbs being sold after the end of 2011 so consumers will not have a choice about using them. They do however contain mercury so you cant really just dump them in the landfill sites (although I think millions will be slipped in with the regular garbage causing an environmental problem of biblical proportions). Somebody should have thought of this before the big promotions started. My understanding is that the eco fee amounts to something in the order of 10% of the price of the bulbs. The thing is that when something gets recycled it gets smushed up and somebody pays cash for the stuff and that cash can be used to pay for the recycling and in fact a few weeks ago that is what was happening. The sudden +10% that didnt seem necessary a few weeks ago has upset consumers.

    Ok so who gets the money? That is a very good question and it needs to be examined closely. In many municipalities the local government is not in the garbage business and they simply hire some company to collect and deal with the garbage for them. My municipality is like that. So when the recycling bins are collected these private companies suddenly acquire huge piles of stuff that have real value. Somebody sorts this stuff into neat piles so they can sell the paper to folks who want to buy paper and plastic to folks who want to buy plastic. Im thinking this might be a pretty lucrative business because they get their product for nothing and simply have to sort it into pile to sell it. The fly in the ointment would be products that need special treatment like mercury laden light bulbs. Glass buyers dont want the mercury and mercury buyers dont want the glass in the bulbs. So now the folks who do the sorting actually have to do more than just sort the stuff in order to sell it and they want to be paid for their trouble.This seems to be the crux of the matter, namely that no one wants to pony up the cash to pay the folks who sort. The interesting thing here is that if consumers refused to pony up the cash the sorting people will have to raise the price they charge the folks who buy recycled stuff. That seems to me to be a pretty reasonable way to approach the thing. If you ask the public to pay for the special handling that some of these things require you are in effect subsidizing the company that buys recycled goods. I dont think I like that. I think the guy who buys recycled glass for example should be paying for the cost of preparing the product for his purchase. I suspect that in the case of lightbulbs that the price of glass wouldnt increase by any amount that anyone would notice. I also expect that the total costs involved in collecting and administering the eco fee has a good chance of being larger than the amount collected. This whole eco thing has a peculiar aroma to it.

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