Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Surprise Eco Fees Not Helping

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.


  1. I was also just hit with 'eco-fees' at my local Home Hardware store. Very interesting,not a tax but a fee. I too searched the net and came up with the same site 'ecofee.org'. Interesting that it is the 'Environmental Division' of 'Animal Society Org' and on the website the first thing you read is "Instantly Increase Profits" What???? 'Animal Society' 'Las Vegas Headquarters'?????
    Ok... lets see, if I pay an Eco Fee on toxic chemicals/containers...then I assume those two companies will assume all responcibility for 'all' my waste containers and must have a 'disposal' system in place... Great...no more waiting for an annual toxic waste disposal day...I'm off the Can Tire with a few hundred paint containers!!!!!

  2. Anonymous: If you do try to take waste containers back to retailers, I'd be interested in hearing how it goes. If they don't take them back, then we have to assume that these eco fees are just added profits.

  3. Happened to me yesterday when I bought oil and an oil filter at Canadian Tire. When I asked about it, I was told it was just another government tax!
    I wonder what will happen when I return the used filter and oil to them :)

  4. I too have been eco-victimized. For years (20+) I have been re-cycling used oil, coolants, etc. by taking them to Mr. Lube, who willingly take used automobile fluids of all sorts, regardless if they sold them to you or not.

    When I purchased new oil and coolant at CT, I was shocked to find the fee tacked on. When I asked if that meant I could return used fluids to them, I was met with a "how stupid are you expression?".

    They have no intention of helping with disposal because it would just cut into their profits.

    Since we as consumers need to change these items to maintain the vehicle, the fee can't help us make a more "environmentally friendly choice" because there isn't one.

    What a scam.

  5. Wow, that last comment gets me- they gave you a blank stare? When they are supposed to be offering a service for the extra money :O

    I bought a can of super 77spray adhesive (13-14 bucks!!!) and got charged 10c extra, i had only bought it for some hobby projects-

    Now, on the back it says NO OZONE SEPLEATING CHEMICALS, so i was annoyed and thought they were doing somthing with aresol, but NO! Its All containers of a certain nature ?!?!?

    I very much will pay for this, im a kid, dont earn huge salaries like the people who impose these fees, so if it IS used for good, and IF it is ADVERTISED!!!!!

    It isnt mentioned, isnt advertised, and isnt included in the price. Not Good. Disliked that the most.

  6. Just bought paint (another Home Hardware Store) and seen this new charge - and also paid GST and PST on this new charge! What a rip-off! I thought it was illegal to tax a tax!! Called the tax people - no answer to question why am I being charged tax on this fee and they could give no answer (other than the store 'MAY'charge it)and told me to contact my member of parliament.

  7. Anonymous: This fee isn't really a tax. As far as I can tell it is just extra profit for the company. Or viewed another way, it allows them to advertise a false lower price for an item much the way that airlines do.

  8. Home Hardware appears to be the store of cyhoice for this ecofee. I just purchased two cans of wood preserver and was charged an extra fee of .36 cents per can. From what I see they appear to charge what they want, no scale of fee. Just anothe r TAX grab in the middle of a recession. What is needed is a revolution and get these idiots out of power.

  9. Jim-Peterborough ONAugust 5, 2009 at 1:11 PM

    Purchased a computer system from Future Shop on the weekend. $699.00.
    They added a $26 ECO fee to the bill.
    Does this mean I can drop off my old monitor at the service desk? I'm planning to go back and get an try to get an explanation as to how they calculated the fee, So far I can't find anything on the web as to how it is calculated.

  10. Jim - I'd be interested in hearing what Future Shop has to say. As far as I can tell, ECO Fees just allow a company to advertise a lower price.

  11. Has anybody returned their used stuff yet?
    I was told by a friend that Canadian Tire is supposed to take the used stuff back, but I find it hard to believe.

    Is this true?

    Guess I will have to find out for myself.

  12. Anonymous: I haven't tried bringing stuff back to stores where I've been charged ECO fees. If you try it I'd like to hear about it.

  13. you can take empty/old/unwanted paints, lightbulbs and household batteries to Home Depot for displosal.

  14. I was about to buy a 675ml bottle of glass cleaner at Canadian Tire for $1.00 and they wanted to charge $0.13 as an eco fee and then charge HST on the total. That would have been 28% in taxes! I cancelled my purchases and will look to other alternatives such as buying used items and shopping in the USA.

  15. You can definately take back your used electronics to either Future shop or Best Buy.
    Not sure about used paint though? if anyone has tried bringing back old paint please post your experience.