I wanted to follow up with a final note about those annoying eco fees that I wrote about earlier. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to be dinged more than 25% on a small electronics purchase. Ellen Roseman, writing in the Toronto Star, reported that she had received several similar complaints. As of December 1, the fee on clock radios was reduced from $2.75 to 40¢. But some people were continuing to be overcharged in error and are being encouraged to complain to the Ontario consumer ministry.
The program is administered by the Ontario Electronics Stewardship (www.ontarioelectronicsstewardship.ca). It operates separately from a parallel organization that introduced similar ‘eco fees’ on consumer chemical products. That initiative caused such an uproar that the Minister cancelled that program. The idea is based on the concept of making manufacturers responsible for the life cycle of their products rather than passing the costs of collection and disposal onto public waste management programs funded by property taxes.
‘Stewardship’ programs shift the cost to those who buy and consume the most. But it’s not transparent. As I understand it, manufacturers pay a fee to the Stewardship program based on their production but then pass the fee to wholesalers and retailers who have the option of charging the fee separately or included in the retail price.
Unfortunately, by listing it separately on a bill it gets labelled as a fee or worse, a hidden tax. In my opinion, it is properly part of the full cost of buying and using these electronic products. I have lately seen shelf labels in some stores that display both the retail price and an electronics eco fee. My preference would be to include this cost in the retail price. All electronics price labels should display the total price and a note, “includes $ ** stewardship fee”.
The Ontario Conservative leader, Tim Hudak, pledged to eliminate the stewardship fee which he describes as a tax. This would be a mistake. The electronic stewardship fee is producing results and has created some employment in this area. The two local collection bins (Daisy Mart in Lefroy & Innisfil Beach Rd at Hwy 11) are continually filling up. People obviously appreciate the opportunity to dispose of these items responsibly.
Just as importantly, plastics, metals, and glass are recovered for recycling. Electronic components contain small amounts of elements called rare earth metals. These metals commonly occur in geological formations but not in sufficient concentrations to mine in most areas. China is currently the largest producer of these elements and has restricted their export as both domestic and world demand grows. Because rare earths are recognized as strategically important, new mines are under development in Canada, US and Australia but are years from start-up. In this scenario, the stewardship fee is probably the best way of creating a modest domestic supply of these metals through recycling.
Update, January 28,2011: Tyler Hamilton points out that there are some alternatives to rare earth metals and notes. “companies will have to innovate around the problem – and that’s not always a bad thing.” [Digging up alternatives to rare-earth metals, Toronto Star, January 28, 2011, p B2]