On October 12, Ontario’s Environment Minister John Wilkinson announced that the government was cancelling Phase 2 of Stewardship Ontario’s Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste (MHSW) Program. This means that eco-fees will not be charged on products such as fire extinguishers, rechargeable batteries and compact fluorescent light bulbs. This decision followed several months of consulting with stakeholders about the program.
The government has stated that eco-fees will not be allowed into the future and that the province will fund municipal governments to manage materials that were to have been part of the Phase 2 program. Until when, you ask? The answer is indefinitely – or until an alternative solution is found.
CIELAP is concerned about what has happened to the government’s commitment to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR makes producers and brand owners responsible for the management of the waste materials they put into the market in the first place.
The government’s move may sound as though it’s providing tax relief; however, it is simply shifting the costs of material management from the producers and consumers (those who produce, profit from and use the products) onto provincial taxpayers (who don’t necessarily have anything to do with the products). This is in no way more fair and transparent. The Minister’s recent decision is a major step backwards for EPR
Another challenge with this recent decision is that it leaves material management gaps. While municipalities have had programs in place for some time to deal with wastes such as compact fluorescent lights, syringes, and toxic materials, they have no existing programs to handle materials such as pharmaceuticals. This gap needs to be addressed quickly by working with municipalities and/or industry groups to develop appropriate programs.
An overarching frustration in all of this is that the problematic Waste Diversion Act and all the structures and processes it sets in place have not yet been replaced by a stronger mechanism for waste management in Ontario.
We urge Minister Wilkinson to think beyond eco-fees and to use this opportunity to get waste management right in the province by:
1) Staying committed to the principles of EPR and requiring that producers pay for the management of waste materials rather than taxpayers.
2) Putting in place timelines and processes to return to an industry-funded model and ensuring that material management gaps are addressed.
3) Renewing its commitment to the review of the Waste Diversion Act and moving towards stronger waste management in the province in a timely manner.