2010 Special Report

Getting it Right

Paying for the Management of Household Hazardous Wastes

“Eco Fee” Controversy Must Not Jeopardize Hazardous Waste Program

(Toronto – July 27, 2010) Ontario’s program for managing hazardous waste is an important step in the right direction and should not be scrapped, says Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller in his Special Report, released today.
The report notes, however, that the program is not perfect, and offers two key recommendations for its improvement.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario fears that recent controversy and confusion over the implementation of the second phase of the hazardous waste management program, particularly the unfortunate decision by some retailers to invent the concept of “eco fees”, could jeopardize the future of this necessary program. The report aims to provide clarity about the program and refocus the discussion back on the core issue: how to manage and finance the management of hazardous wastes.

While not perfect, the hazardous waste program is definitely a step in the right direction. It will keep more hazardous materials out of our environment and will take the cost of managing these wastes off the taxpayer and put it where it belongs: on the manufacturers of the hazardous waste products, said Miller.

  • Without a waste diversion program, most hazardous household wastes are thrown out with regular garbage and end up in a landfill or incinerator, where chemicals in the wastes can contaminate Ontario’s water, soil and air.
  • In recent years, several municipalities have set up their own household hazardous waste collection programs. These programs are paid for entirely by municipal taxpayers.

Under the program, which has been in place since July 2008, stewards (i.e., manufacturers and importers) pay “steward fees” to Stewardship Ontario to finance the collection, recycling and safe disposal of the hazardous wastes from their products. The money raised by “steward fees” will, among other things, reimburse municipalities for any costs of managing these wastes.

  • Stewards can absorb the “steward fees” as a cost of doing business or pass the fee along by increasing the wholesale price of their products.
  • Anticipating an increase in wholesale prices, some retailers recently increased the prices of affected products and made this increase visible on receipts as an “eco fee”. “Eco fees” were never a component of Ontario’s hazardous waste program.

Despite the Commissioner’s support for the program, his report identifies some necessary areas for improvement.

A key problem with the program is there’s no incentive for manufacturers to make their products greener since they are all charged the same “steward fee” regardless of how green their products are, Miller continued. Instead, the manufacturer of a product, say a paint, that is less toxic (and therefore easier and cheaper to manage when discarded) should pay a lower “steward fee” than the manufacturer of a more toxic and more difficult to manage product.

Another problem with Ontario’s program, the Commissioner added, is that manufacturers only pay for the management of wastes collected through the program and not for wastes going to landfill. Because Stewardship Ontario aims to collect only 42% of the available hazardous waste in the program’s first year, taxpayers will still be footing the bill for managing more than half of Ontario’s hazardous waste.

To ensure that the full potential of stewardship is achieved, the Environmental Commissioner has two recommendations to improve the program:

  1. The Ministry of the Environment should require stewards to pay fees that differ based on the environmental costs of managing their products once they become waste. Only differential fees will encourage competition between companies, which should result in less toxic and more recyclable products, and keep the program costs in check.
  2. The Ministry of the Environment should require that the hazardous waste program cover all costs of waste management, including the costs of disposing those products not collected through the program and lost to landfill.

For more information, please contact:

Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
(416) 325-3371

Click to download the full Special Report, Getting it Right: Paying for the Management of Household Hazardous Wastes (.pdf)

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is the province’s independent environmental watchdog. Appointed by the Legislative Assembly, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is tasked under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 with publicly reporting on the government’s environmental decision-making.

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