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    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Consumer "eco" fees?
July 13, 2010 - 6:16pm

I really don't know what to think about a news item which crossed my (virtual) desk this morning.

Apparently, the Canadian province of Ontario has established stewardship councils to make sure that certain classes of consumer products are recycled properly, and has granted such councils the ability to impose fees at time of product purchase. Presumably, the fee paid at purchase time funds the facilities or processing to handle recycling at end of product life.

The fees get collected when the goods are delivered to the retailer (which makes sense for a provincially-restricted fee in a global, or even national, economy). Apparently the intent (whose intent?) was that the fee get passed on to consumers in the form of higher shelf prices (largely invisible), not added on as a separate line item at the cash register.

Of course, retailers -- who dislike anything that raises consumer prices -- took the opposite tack. Many (all?) show the fee as a separate charge, and describe it as a tax. Their intent (I'm guessing here) may be to try to make the fee structure go away. The more likely outcome (again, guessing) is that a low level of discontent will be fomented and remain in force for years to come.

Personally, I wonder about recycling fees which might operate kind of like "core charges". If you buy a new auto part, for example, you can often get a "core charge" ($10 or $20) back if you bring the old whatever in to the store. The old alternator, water pump, battery, etc. gets returned to the manufacturer and rebuilt; the same sort of system could work if the thing were destined for some sort of recycling or repurposing.

So I'm left wondering whether something like "stewardship councils" (likely industry-dominated) are a good way to go (I'm thinking "yes"). Whether fees imposed at purchase are the best way to finance end-of-useful-life processing (again, probably "yes"). Whether those fees should be visible to the consumer (a separate line item on the receipt), invisible to the consumer (buried in the shelf price of the product), or something in between (something like a "core charge"). On that part, I don't know what to think.

 

 

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