The body that oversees electronics recycling in Ontario is being accused of selling out environmental standards to save money.
It’s the latest in a string of controversies to hit the province’s recycling regime, which operates under a 10-year-old legal framework that many industry observers say is deeply flawed.
Ontario Electronic Stewardship denies the suggestion that it is sacrificing standards, saying it has a mandate to operate efficiently and follows strict rules to protect the environment.
But the province’s largest electronics recycler, Sims Recycling Solutions, says it has been excluded from receiving some of the waste collected by OES in favour of competitors who can do the work at a lower price even though they hadn’t been approved under the latest environmental and safety standards.
“They’re allocating to recyclers that don’t meet the standard that they themselves set,” Sims Canada president Cindy Coutts said in an interview. “And no one is holding them accountable.”
The stewardship body said last year that it would stop allocating new waste contracts until all of the recyclers it works with met the new standards, which are set at a national level. But in April, OES awarded contracts anyway based on a new formula that gives more weight to low prices over performance. (Performance counted for more than 60 per cent of the criteria in 2010, compared with 20 per cent this year.)
OES spokeswoman Sandra Pakosh said the organization went ahead with new contracts once it became clear that the national approval process was taking longer than expected. She said all recyclers had been evaluated by OES under an earlier set of criteria and the organization believes most will eventually meet the new standards. “Our approved recyclers are adopting the next version of the standard and are in the process of being verified,” Ms. Pakosh said.
But that represents a reversal of OES’s policy of just five months ago. Last December, former OES president Carol Hochu e-mailed Ms. Coutts and others to say the organization would delay contracts for an “interim period” until all recyclers had been approved by the Recycler Qualification Office, the new national standards body. “After the end of the interim period, OES will allocate [electronic waste]to processors who have been successfully certified by the RQO,” Ms. Hochu wrote.
Ms. Coutts says her firm spent millions to ensure its Mississauga and Brampton plants would meet the new standard – something she believed was a requirement.
“We invested because, on paper, the recycling standard forms part of the plan,” she said. “And then OES turns around and flows material to people who don’t meet that.”
Rob Cook, CEO of the Ontario Waste Management Association, which represents some of the processors, said the organization is “hugely concerned” by the way contracts were handled.
He said standards are necessary to distinguish OES contractors from those who work outside the stewardship program and are often accused of cutting corners. “Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got OES operating without those in place,” he said.
Ontario’s waste-diversion regime was established by the Tory government in 2002. Both OES and Stewardship Ontario, which oversees blue boxes and hazardous waste, have been accused of monopolistic behaviour and drawn sharp criticism from some of the organizations they’re supposed to work with.
They are not directly accountable to taxpayers. Instead, they report to Waste Diversion Ontario, an arm’s-length government agency that has been frequently criticized for not taking stronger action.
A spokesman for Waste Diversion Ontario said it was aware that OES handed out contracts before companies were approved under the latest standards.
“WDO concurred with the decision, recognizing it would continue to operate in a fair and transparent manner,” Perry Blocher wrote in an e-mail.
Ms. Coutts said her company will continue to collect material from its own, independently administered drop boxes.
But she said even that aspect of her business could be threatened after OES announced a proposal to cut payments to independent recyclers – called incentive payments – by nearly half.
She said the industry funding organization has manipulated recycling markets to an extent where it’s no longer worthwhile for her company to invest further.
“To have something enacted in law, where there are parameters set on what should happen ... to have those rules not enforced is devastating to free enterprise in this province,” she said.