Manitobans could pay more for new flat screens, stereos and other electronics under a proposed fee-based e-waste plan that's raising the eyebrows of environmentalists, who fear consumer backlash.
A draft of the long-awaited industry-led stewardship plan for Manitoba's electronic waste was made public late last week, and an open house is set for today at the Inn at the Forks.
The plan, submitted by a trio of industry associations, proposes a new "environmental handling fee" for electronics purchases in Manitoba. That cash would be used to cover the costs of recycling and handling e-waste, currently handled by the provincial government, but soon to be taken over by industry.
Some companies might include the fee in their ticket prices, but in general the fee will show up separately on receipts, according to the draft proposal.
One local environmental group is wary of the plan, pointing to the recent backlash in Ontario that led the province to scrap a host of newly announced fees on household products last month.
Eco-fees are "seen in the consumer's mind as something that government is imposing on them, that makes their costs higher," said Josh Brandon, Green Living co-ordinator for Resource Conservation Manitoba.
The organization would rather see costs of e-waste handling internalized in the price of new electronics, with different industry groups paying their share of recycling costs. Brandon said that approach would provide an incentive for companies to reduce costs.
Electronics Product Stewardship Canada president Shelagh Kerr said it's too early to say how much the fees would amount to in Manitoba. That organization, along with the Retail Council of Canada and the Canadian Appliance Manufacturers Association, are responsible for the draft plan.
Opting for a separate fee, rather than building recycling costs into the sticker price, would "harmonize with other programs across Canada," Kerr said, and keep product prices consistent.
"Having the fee separate and visible for the service provided of collecting products back and recycling them, is important," she said. "Otherwise, it would be very difficult to have a national pricing policy."
In July, Ontario scrapped a controversial new set of eco-fees on thousands of household products after less than a month following widespread opposition. However, fees on electronics and some other products are still in place there.
The targeted start date for Manitoba's new program is April 1, 2011, according to the draft. Plans were first announced by the Manitoba government in 2007.
Brandon did see some cause for optimism, saying he likes the idea of retailers potentially serving as e-waste depots. He's still hoping for e-waste recycling help for people who don't have vehicles.
Manitobans can currently drop off their e-waste for recycling for free year-round at 10 depots, and until the end of October at 20 others. A full list is online at www.greenmanitoba.ca.
E-waste recycler Tom Syrota said the recycling program as run through the province's Green Manitoba office worked out well for taxpayers, and provided solid figures on costs and volume. He's not clear what changes might be in store. "I just think that of the four years we've done this program, we've proved it can run efficiently and economically," he said. "I'd hate somebody to change all that."
Want to know more?
The e-waste stewardship draft plan is open for comment until Aug. 9. The plan is posted online at www.intergroup.ca/ewaste/meeesp-draft.pdf. Today's open house runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Inn at the Forks. Those who can't make it can watch a noon-hour webinar instead. Sign up for the webcast by emailing email@example.com or phoning 942-0654 and asking for Jeff.
Eco-fees on electronics are already in place in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario. Fees vary slightly province to province. Electronics Product Stewardship Canada president Shelagh Kerr said it's too soon to know what Manitobans might wind up paying. In the meantime, here's a sampling of e-waste eco-fees in place in Ontario:
Desktop computer: $7.80
Computer monitor: $12.25
Big-screen television: $26.25
Mouse or keyboard: $0.40
Desktop printer: $5.40
Land-line phone: $1.00
Digital camera or mp3 player: $0.40
Home stereo: $2.75