As they line up to buy sewing machines, washing machines and dozens of other electronic and electric goods after July 1, British Columbians will be facing new point-of-purchase eco fees to pay for the eventual recycling of those items.
Recycling proponents are embracing the reality, but a leader in Canadian consumer advocacy is skeptical.
Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers’ Association of Canada, said he is opposed to such efforts unless the fees go to the government rather than to industry groups. Mr. Cran feels that would be more transparent.
While the fees are relatively small, largely ranging between 25 cents and $10 an item, Mr. Cran said the practice sets a tradition that can be hard to reverse. “The point is once they get them in and the small amount is set, it can be raised,” said Mr. Cran, who is based in the Lower Mainland.
However, Brock Macdonald, CEO of the Recycling Council of B.C., said the status quo fairly places the onus for recycling costs on consumers, sparing municipalities the costs. “It’s all part of being a responsible consumer,” said Mr. Macdonald, whose council is a non-profit charity that provides information on recycling.
He said he was hard-pressed to forecast the revenues for the new fees because they would be based on sales to come on the targeted items.
Shafiq Jamal, the Western Canada vice-president for the Retail Council of Canada, said its polling has suggested B.C. consumers support the ongoing effort. “British Columbians recognize there is a fee association with responsible recycling and we have to do the right thing by the environment,” he said.
However, point-of-purchase recycling fees have caused controversy elsewhere in Canada. Eco fees imposed on thousands of household products in Ontario in 2010 were scrapped after Premier Dalton McGuinty said the effort failed to strike the right balance between protecting consumers and the environment.
B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake was unavailable for comment, but his office noted, in a statement, that government monitors the effort, which has been approved under B.C. recycling legislation. The new fees are the latest in a schedule of recycling commitments that began in 2007
“Eco fees are not mandated by government, but if one is charged, independently audited financial statements are required to be submitted to government for review,” said Mr. Lake’s office.
The fees have been set by stewardship agencies – private, non-profit organizations established by producers of the items – that manage recycling services for the products.
In B.C., costs will be applied to about 27 new classes of products, including washing machines and dryers, water purifiers, pocket calculators and computer terminals. At the end of the life of such items, they can be deposited at community depots for recycling that is financed by the fees.
A spokesman for ElectroRecycle, an organization that largely handles small appliances, acknowledged some consumers may be wary of the extra costs.
“There’s always some people who would prefer there not be fees, of course,” said Jordan Best. “That’s the case with anything in life, like taxes, but we think that the vast majority of British Columbians are excited about these programs.”
Craig Wisehart, executive director for Electronic Products Recycling Association, agreed. “You’re always going to get someone who is not happy about something, but really I think B.C. is kind of a green province. I believe the acceptance of the fees is good.”
For 2012, he said the association budgeted revenues of about $26-million and expenses of $27-million, with a resulting deficit of $888,200. However, the projections, which date back to 2011, may change based on recovered products and recycling costs, among other factors.
He said the expanded program will represent about 5 per cent of his organization’s electronics recycling program in 2012.