Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, Hon. John Gerretsen, announced Phase 2 of Ontario’s ambitious program for dealing with waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) on March 30th at the City of Toronto Reuse Centre. This comes after Phase 1’s first full year of operation. On top of computers, computer peripherals, TVs, printers, and monitors that can already be recycled under Phase 1, Phase 2 is set to include cell phones, telephones, scanners, copiers, typewriters, modems, and almost any audio visual equipment, such as cameras and stereos. Since WEEE is a rapidly growing and highly toxic waste stream, this is a step in the right direction for Ontario’s sustainability and for the province to become a North American leader for handling WEEE in a responsible manner. This program reflects Ontario’s broader goal of implementing a waste management strategy based around extended producer responsibility (EPR), which transfers responsibility for dealing with a product’s end-of-life from municipalities to the companies that design them. Currently, companies in the electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) industry fund an organization responsible for collecting and recycling, refurbishing, or disposing of WEEE, Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES), through the fees it charges on EEE sold in Ontario.
So, how well has Phase 1 of the WEEE Program Plan worked after its first full year of implementation? The results look to have been mediocre at best. When the Program Plan was released on March 10, 2008, it was estimated that 42,000 tonnes of WEEE would be collected after the first year of the program. That number was reduced to 33,200 tonnes in the Revised Program Plan released 16 months later. And in a technical memo released in December of 2009, after the program had been operating for 9 months, the amount of WEEE expected to be collected was just 23,200 tonnes. OES estimated that there was approximately 64,000 tonnes of Phase 1 WEEE available for collection last year, and so over a third of designated WEEE was diverted from landfills. However, this is 55% less than what was initially projected. The reason stated for the missed target was that “OES is actively competing for WEEE with a group of companies that have chosen not to participate in the OES program.” However, OES requires that any producer that chooses not to participate has to submit its own program plan, so these effects should have been taken into consideration when the projections were made. The technical memo neglects to state how much WEEE is being diverted through these non-participating collection organizations, so it is difficult to judge the overall effectiveness of the program.
There may be other reasons why the target has been missed. A key driver for the success of this program is consumer participation through an effective promotion and education initiative. This initiative has been lacking. Anecdotally, few people I’ve spoken to have heard of this program. A few newspaper articles discussed its announcement a year ago, but there has been little or no media exposure since. I also decided to investigate how the collection sites were promoting this program, so I went down to my local drop-off point, the Salvation Army on Parliament Street in Toronto’s East End. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was an absence of any signage. When I inquired about this, the cashier explained to me that they did not have a van to transport the WEEE to a central collection point, and, on top of that, they had no more available storage space. So they aren’t collecting WEEE anymore. Despite this, that Salvation Army is still listed on the OES website, dowhatyoucan.ca, where consumers can find their nearest collection point.
There are, of course, bound to be some kinks in any new program of this nature and the WEEE Program definitely attempts to address problems with WEEE that have been shirked in the past. I look forward to hearing what action the government or OES plans to take so future targets can be met.
Jake Gregory, CIELAP Volunteer