Ontario IT industry eyes costs of e-waste proposal

A proposed e-waste recycling program that could see businesses paying a recycling fee for every PC and laptop they purchase may have noble intentions but it doesn’t exactly offer an incentive to be green, said an observer from one of Canada’s major IT associations.

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The program devised by Waste Diversion Ontario could result in 650 drop-off depots across the province at a total cost of $62 million, which will be allocated into per-item fees to be paid by manufacturers or first importers of electronics.

The manufacturers and first importers can then decide whether to absorb the fee or apply it to the consumer or business that ultimately purchases the product. The fees would be approximately $2.14 for a laptop, $13.44 for a desktop PC, and $12.03 for a monitor.

The proposal was submitted to the Environment Minister John Gerretsen on Monday and will undergo public consultation.

Although the program might raise much-needed awareness around reusing and recycling electronics, businesses will still be required to pay the recycling fees regardless of whether they actually recycle, said Greg Lane, vice-president with Mississauga, Ont.-based Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS).

Besides, said Lane, although the $62 million cost may not be intended as another tax, it certainly feels like one and, he added, “like any tax it’s going to be inefficient because it’s taking money out of the system.”

If the program is approved, Lane thinks the end user will ultimately be paying an additional cost to support the program because he doesn’t expect to see the product manufacturers and importers choosing to absorb the cost. Parties along the supply chain will just end up passing on that cost, or find a way to make it up some other way, said Lane. “Businesses can’t afford to continue to eat margins to support government programs. That’s just fundamentally flawed.”

Lane is not sure that a “general or blanket solution” to the problem is the best approach, nor if the government is the best organization to even be running a green program.

Bernard Courtois, president & CEO of Toronto-based Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) agreed that manufacturers and importers will likely pass the cost to the end user, but businesses today need to bear the responsibility to appropriately dispose of the e-waste they create.

Courtois said although there are channels through which businesses can recycle PCs, they don’t always have the assurance that the e-waste is going where it’s supposed to go. This program will provide that peace of mind, he said. Besides, someone needs to “bite the bullet”, if society is to be environmentally friendly, said Courtois, adding that when manufacturers’ costs rise so inevitably do those of the end user.

The impact of a recycling fee on business purchases of electronics will vary depending on whether the organization is already taking steps to be environmentally responsible, said Courtois. Those with implemented green plans will welcome the program as an organized and structured approach to the problem of e-waste that was absent before.

Overall, the program will raise awareness among businesses and IT professionals, he said. And, if the cost of the program is ultimately borne by businesses and consumers, Courtois noted that it will be one illustration that “environment responsibility can touch you in ways not imagined before.”

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