I got my first introduction to Eco Fees when I bought some paint at Canadian Tire on the weekend. Standing third in line at the cash, I decided to work out the final price. Let’s see ... $4.27 plus 13% sales tax ... works out to about $4.83. So, I was standing there with $4.85 in my hand and preparing to refuse the two pennies change.
Cheerful Cashier: “That’ll be $4.86 please.”
Me: “Oops. Here’s another nickel.”
At this point I looked at the cashier’s screen to see where I messed up and saw a line that read “ECOFEE $0.03.”
Me: “What’s an ECOFEE?”
Cashier: “It’s for stuff that’s bad for the environment.”
Poking around online I discovered that this Eco Fee has something to do with Stewardship Ontario and an organization called EcoFee.org. From the EcoFee web site:
“The EcoFee is an ENVIRONMENTAL RECYCLING & RECOVERY FEE that businesses may add to invoices, billing statements, reminders, receipts, and document processing to help cover the costs that businesses incur for recycling, processing, printing, sorting, mailing, ink cartridge recycling, toner cartridge recycling, etc. This helps businesses keep the environment healthy.”
So, it seems that the fee I paid isn’t really a tax and will be kept by Canadian Tire. I found various angry opinions about Eco Fees that expressed doubt that it is anything more than extra profits. However, even if we assume that the money really will go towards environmental efforts, I have a problem with how it is being collected.
The goal of shifting costs to those products that harm the environment is to change people’s choices. Given a choice between two equally desirable options, most people will choose the one with the lower price. Thus, products with higher Eco Fees will be chosen less often. But, this can’t work if the Eco Fees are hidden until they get added to the final bill. For all I know, I’ve been paying Eco Fees for some time and never noticed before.
These Eco Fees need to be obvious at the time people make their product selections inside the store. This means that the displayed price should either just include the Eco Fee, or both the base price and Eco Fee should be displayed.
It’s not hard to see why a business would rather add these fees at the cash. They get to advertise a low price to attract buyers and then collect more money. However, this isn’t the right approach to shift people to more environmentally-friendly choices.