Ontario scraps eco-fees, but e-waste fees remain

As I watched the debate rage about the Government of Ontario and Stewardship Ontario‘s poor implementation of its eco-fee program, I couldn’t help but remember the similarly troubled roll-out last year of the province’s e-waste initiative. And when I watched the province scrap the eco-fee program under public and retailer pressure, I couldn’t help but feel for the Ontario channel partners who are apparently less politically relevant to the province than hardware stores like Canadian Tire.

The eco-fee and e-waste programs are really quite similar.

* Both are provincial government initiatives ran through Stewardship Ontario, which in theory is an independent body but in actuality operates under the environment minister and provincial legislation.

* Both see product “stewards,” whether they be retailers or distributors, collecting a fee designed to cover the cost of safely disposing of or recycling a product. The fee is remitted to Stewardship Ontario (for the e-waste program, it has delegated responsibility to Ontario Electronic Stewardship) and used on a cost-recovery basis to fund collection and disposal/recycling programs.

* In both cases, the fees are ultimately passed on to the end-user, whether it’s as a fee on the receipt or hidden in the cost, because most businesses can’t afford to absorb the cost themselves.

* In both cases, it was decided to devote most of the marketing and public education budget to post-rollout campaigns.

* And in both cases, there was much confusion around the launch and how the program worked.

The launch of the e-waste program in Ontario last year took most in the IT channel by surprise, leaving them scrambling at the last minute to find out whether or not they’d be responsible for collecting and remitting fees, how the process would work, and making sure bids and contracts for sales after the implementation date included the extra expense so VARs wouldn’t be left out of pocket. And if you went into Future Shop buy a computer the day after roll-out, you were probably caught by surprise too.

Similarly, the eco-tax program seemed to catch most retailers by surprise, not knowing what was covered, what the fee was, and how and when to collect it. Consumers didn’t know what the fee was, why they were paying it, or what they could/should do with their waste. Which is just as well, as their options for drop-off were still decidedly limited.

Indeed, the only difference between the two programs is that the eco-tax is shelved, while the channel is still collecting and administering the e-waste tax and end-users are still paying it. And while like the eco-tax, the e-waste program was a headache at first; the initial problems were overcome, the information got out there, the channel adjusted, and today the program seems to be running smoothly. And I think most in the IT channel would agree having processes in place to deal with e-waste is a good thing.

It must still be a little grating though to see the eco-tax program shelved so summarily, when last year faced with the same challenges the channel was simply told to suck it up. It’s an unfortunate message to send to such an important segment of Ontario’s economy.

Follow Jeff Jedras on Twitter: @JeffJedrasCDN.

Want to learn more about e-waste?

Rona Ambrose makes e-waste a national priority
Making it easier to be green
There’s gold in e-waste – Olympic gold that is
Video: Ontario’s e-waste recycling fees and the channel

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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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