It’s no April Fools’: Ontario electronics recycling fees launch today

Toronto – Whether the IT channel is ready or not, as of today most desktop computers, laptops, printers and other peripherals sold in Ontario will attract provincial recycling levies ranging from as low as 32 cents to as high as $13.44.

Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES), the organization responsible for implementing the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Program Plan for the Ontario government, held a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday to officially launch the program, and unveil details around where consumers will be able to get rid of their e-waste.

Carol Hochu, executive director of OES, said the organization deliberately shied-away from publicizing the WEEE program ahead of yesterday’s launch event.

“Frankly, we’re anticipating a rush of unwanted electronics and we had to be sure we’re ready to handle them,” said Hochu.

The program will see the product steward, defined as the brand owner, first importer or manufacturer, responsible for collecting the fees and remitting them to OES. For partners that buy through distribution, it’s likely the distributor will act as the steward and include the fee in their invoice to the partner. However, partners can also opt to sign a remitter’s agreement and take responsibility for collecting and remitting the fee themselves. This could be advantageous for partners that buy product in Ontario and sell it to customers in other provinces, as the fees only apply to product destined for Ontario end-users.

Currently in Ontario, 25,000 tones of e-waste is collected annually by public and private-sector programs, and WEEE hopes to collect another 160,000 tones.

“The focus of the program is really about diverting from landfills unused and unwanted electronics and channeling them into recycling and reuse programs for the sake of the environment, taking place through an established network of collection sites,” said Hochu.

All program costs will be covered by the recycling fees, which Hochu said stewards are free to either absorb or pass on down through the supply-chain as they wish.

“How (stewards) decide to manage that fee through the supply chain is really outside the scope and authority of the OES,” said Hochu.

However, in reality, the IT channel has very little choice said Paul Edwards, director of SMB and channels research with IDC Canada: the fees will be passed on to end-users.

“Certainly the distributors with their business model and their very low margins won’t be able to support any additional cost in their business models, so they’re going to pass it on to channel partners, and a lot of resellers also have very low margins and won’t want to eat that,” said Edwards.

While the WEEE program has undeniably positive impacts around the environment and reducing e-waste. Edwards cautions it will also cause real challenges for resellers already dealing with a challenging economic climate.

“Any large customers that channel partners might have that have already delayed upgrading PCs and notebooks because of the economy may look at delaying those purchases even further based on what is essentially going to be an increased cost in their overall buy,” said Edwards, who added the program could also create a substantial administrative burden for many smaller resellers.

“It’s not something a lot of smaller partners are set up to support, and the fact it was only announced at a press conference (yesterday) and is taking effect (today) probably leaves a lot of partners scrambling to figure-out how they’re going to support this new measure.”

That concern is echoed by Info-Tech Research Group analyst Aaron Hay, who lamented the lack of a training manual or guidebook with more comprehensive information for the resellers, vendors and distributors that will be tasked with administering the WEEE program.

“I don’t think OES has taken the time and preparation needed with enough leeway time to actually train resellers and vendors on how to administer this program,” said Hay, who adds partners with long-term contracts to supply product to customers will need to have conversations about their clients about the new costs.

On the plus side though, Hay said most end-users are concerned about e-waste and how to properly dispose of their end of lifecycle electronics. The WEEE program takes care of that and accounts for the cost up front, so Hay sees most customers embracing the changes.

Businesses and consumers can visit to find the WEEE disposal site nearest them. The OES is partnering with retail partners such as Sears Canada, Best Buy and Staples to arrange special collection events, and with municipalities such as the City of Toronto to create more permanent collection programs. Many Salvation Army Thrift Stores will also act as collection points.

Toronto city council Adam Giambrone said the city will work with the OES and leverage the fee revenue to expand the Blue Box program to include the curbside pick-up of electronics, as well as extend hours at transfer stations and create an “electro-van” to visit apartment buildings to collect e-waste.

“This represents a critical new step, moving beyond the traditional blue box program. It represents a move toward full producer responsibility,” said Giambrone. “That’s critical if we’re going to get these products recycled in a responsible way that’s up to Ontario and international standards.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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