Recycled electronics are ending up in dumps

By MPP Toby Barrett

This past week I had an opportunity to address the abysmal failure of the Ontario government’s waste electronics and electrical equipment program – the latest evidence of unmet expectations with respect to waste diversion in the province.

Back in 2002, the former government passed the Waste Diversion Act, “to promote the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste and to provide for the development, implementation and operation of waste diversion programs.” Since that time, the original vision has been lost because of a lack of leadership that has created a massive multi-armed tax collecting agency achieving only around one-third of its target.

The most recent evidence of the present government’s electronic waste and diversion efforts in Ontario came out in numerous media reports last week. The news accounts indicated that Ontario Electronic Stewardship – a private agency created in April, 2009, and overseen by Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) to run the waste electronics and electrical equipment program – saw original collection targets of 42,000 tonnes lowered to 33,000 tonnes. In the end, it collected only 17,000 tonnes last year.

As I charged in the Legislature recently, while consumers have been paying what amounts to an electronic stewardship tax of between $2 and $26 per item to fund the program, “two-thirds of our e-waste is going overseas to the highest bidder, or to be landfilled”. It seems while regulated processors strive to meet environmentally responsible but costly standards, unregulated processors strip out the most valuable parts and send the rest to be dumped. These are clearly not the promised results people have been asked to pay for.

While Environment Minister Gerretsen has responded by blaming previous governments, promising new legislation, and explaining how he would work with staff and industry, the question is why have we been paying for a broken program in the first place.

These costly missed diversion opportunities with respect to electronic waste are only part of the story – the truth is the entire waste diversion strategy has had Ontarians paying more and getting fewer results since this government took hold of the reins. Back in 2004 government announced WDO and its programs would result in a 60 per cent waste diversion rate by 2008! Now, two years past the deadline and far from 60 per cent diversion target, Minister Gerretsen has stated, “Overall, we divert 22 per cent of our waste from disposal.”

Despite having come nowhere near their promised goal, by their promised deadline, WDO under the Minister’s watch has set up a wide array of programs and plans to divert electronics, tires, used oil and Industrial Commercial and Institutional waste – in most cases adding fees and paperwork that inhibit the ability to do business and ultimately get passed along to the consumer as a hidden tax.

And now we hear that along with rumours of an updated Waste Diversion Act, government is mulling over the concept of a waste disposal fee on industrial, commercial and residential sectors. This would add further costs to the price of doing business in Ontario, while consumers can count on paying more for the products they depend on.

When it comes to waste diversion in Ontario it’s the same old story – we pay more and we get less.