Better programs, better products

19 Jul

Sometimes we can’t help it. Those of us living in the rest of Canada find ourselves shaking our heads at Ontarians. Maybe the record heat is making them cranky, but it seems they’ve been up in arms since Canada Day about so-called “eco-fees” that came into effect on July 1, 2010 to cover the cost of recycling a range of household hazardous materials like left-over paint, aerosols, batteries and the like. This would seem to make sense to me, considering these materials contain pretty nasty stuff that ought to properly disposed or recycled.  But, amid a flurry of complaints, and some pretty haphazard publicity about tax-grabs and confused consumers, the “people” have spoken and today, the Ontario Environment Minister caved and recalled the fees.

It’s a pity, because these types of programs really work. We in British Columbia have had similar charges in place for many products for several years.  In fact, on July 1st, fluorescent tubes, cell phones, thermostats, batteries and a range of other electronics also became part of the province-wide recycling system. It’s called Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR, and it’s a policy tool being used successfully in BC, a few US states, and widely across Europe to deal with materials that are hard to dispose of or need special handling.

So why is this important? Producers make products, which we as consumers buy. Traditionally, we would buy them, use them, and throw them away when we were done.  Most often, these materials ended up in landfills which cost a great deal to manage and maintain safely, and were typically operated by local governments and paid for by all taxpayers.  That means that everyone paid the cost of disposal, even if we didn’t all use the product.  More importantly, it let the producers off the hook for being responsible for their products at the end of their useful life.

But EPR is a game-changer.  By sharing the responsibility for the product between the producer and the person who bought it, used it and threw it away, a whole new way of dealing with waste is possible.  First off, people tend to be more careful about what they buy.  Buying just enough paint for your new reno means none to dispose of at the end, and being able to recycle batteries means no harmful chemicals threatening our health.  Producers get in on the act too, making better products that either last longer or are easier to recycle, since it’s now be their job to manage the products once we’re done with them.

So back to the “eco-fees”.  These are the charges attached to the products governed by the EPR policy.  They go to the producers, usually represented by a non-profit organization whose job it is to take back the products and make sure they are disposed or recycled safely.  No money goes to the government, no taxes are snuck into other programs. The producers have to report annually on how much of their products were sold, and how much they recovered through take-back programs for recycling. And producers, especially for mega-brands like Sony and Toshiba, are starting to take this further, trying to figure out how to use EPR to make their products stand out even more to the discerning consumer.

Let’s hope that the retraction by the Ontario government is temporary, and that with a better organized communications plan, they can roll the program out with success.  It’s time to put your money where your mouth is!

In the interests of full disclosure, I work in the recycling business and have been a strong advocate of EPR programs for many years.  I also love to shop.

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3 Responses to “Better programs, better products”

  1. Leah July 20, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    Seriously, why is it that on issues that matter, the communication plan roll out is left to chance? Better still, why was July 1 chosen as the roll out date, knowing that this was the same day as the HST implementation? Hopefully, the government will re-consider and come up with a pr strategy that will give the program a fighting chance!

  2. Lindsey July 21, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    all I can say is …. wow.

  3. Lindsey July 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    y does my name have a pic beside it???????

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