Supporters, including Ontario’s Liberal government, call them eco-fees. Just about everyone else calls them a tax.
From that new television to tires for your car, there’s a long list of goods that add an extra line to the bill, ostensibly the cost of disposing of the items once you’re done with them.
Because the money doesn’t go to the government per se, proponents of programs such as Stewardship Ontario and Waste Diversion Ontario say the money you’re forced to hand over isn’t a tax. But that’s really just a semantic argument, as the government created the infrastructure that drove up costs and cleared the way for manufacturers to pass the fees onto consumers. You have to pay it, so it’s a tax.
“The government is forcing people to pay the charge,” says Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris, the environment critic for the Progressive Conservatives, adding the various recycling entities constitute a “government-mandated monopoly.”
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“This is another Liberal tax grab, pure and simple,” adds party leader Tim Hudak. “The Liberal approach under Dalton McGuinty and now Kathleen Wynne is just a tax grab and excessive bureaucracy, and it’s got to change.”
Sure, that position makes political hay for the opposition, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant.
The issue of bureaucracy rings true, as the province has set up extra layers to oversee recycling efforts, in effect hitting up Ontarians for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Worse still, even environmentalists acknowledge the creations – Stewardship Ontario, the Ontario Electronic Stewardship, the Ontario Tire Stewardship – are often counterproductive. By allowing manufacturers and retailers to simply pass on the costs to consumers as a line item on bills, the current arrangement provides no incentive for those companies to make better products that use fewer resources and less-hazardous materials. Nor is there an incentive to find better, less expensive ways to recycle waste material.
Instead, we have a system that makes the status quo just fine, especially as consumers refer to the fees as taxes and blame the government for everything, rather than increasing pressure on companies to do better.
For Harris, the solution is to make individual manufacturers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products. No add-on fees, no system that masks inefficiencies at consumers’ and taxpayers’ expense. In that way, he argues, companies would look for the best way to drive down costs while creating new markets for recycled materials, some of which are very valuable.
The government’s role in all of this should be to regulate the process, not set up bureaucracies, he says.
“Its job should be to set targets and monitor the outcomes. That’s it.”
Harris has been leading the charge against the eco-fees, calling on the government to repeal them. But even getting straight answers about the programs has proven difficult, he notes.
“Ontarians deserve answers, especially after the Environment Minister spent last week pretending he didn’t even know why eco-taxes are imposed on consumers.
“The Minister knows full well that his government’s regulations force manufacturers and importers of tires and electronics to register with and pay fees to the Liberals’ recycling agencies. And it’s the Liberals who then allow retailers to pass these costs onto consumers at the cash register in the form of an eco-tax.”
Harris notes the Liberals have pointed to the Waste Diversion Act, passed by the previous Tory government, as the cause of the current situation, but he quickly dismisses that argument.
“At every turn, the Minister cleverly avoids explaining that it was the Liberals who used this piece of legislation to create massive new bureaucracy and taxation powers,” he says. “The truth is that the Waste Diversion Act was introduced to create a more stable funding formula for the Blue Box program. It was the Liberals who then used it to create eco-taxes in 2008 for household hazardous materials, then in 2009 for electronics and again in 2009 for tires.”
Large increases in fees attached to some electronics and tires have the government taking heat just now.
As of May 1, consumers in Ontario will pay a recycling fee of $39.50 when they buy a new TV with a screen larger than 29 inches. We currently pay $27.60. Some fees are going down, however. The same is true of tires, where the fees for passenger cars and light trucks are dropping a few cents (to $5.69 from $5.84 per tire), but the users of large tires – such as those found on the farm vehicles often seen in this area – were initially facing increases of 2,000 per cent, to $352.80 from just $15.29. Political pressure has the government looking at halving that increase, phasing in the cost. That doesn’t appease Harris.
“That’s just dragging out the pain, not dealing with the problem.”
That problem, he says, is the structure that’s been put in place. But it’s one that could be remedied by making the manufacturers turn to the free market to find recycling options, rather than essentially letting them off the hook with third-party agencies.
Doing away with the stewardship programs – and the fees – while continuing to regulate full-lifecycle responsibility would prompt the manufacturers to make changes in how they design their products and in how they dispose of them.
Better for the environment. Better for our wallets. Thus far, the government’s come up with no good excuse for maintaining the current arrangement.