Terry Greene, the program director of Newfoundland and Labrador's  Electronic Products Recycling Association is defending a fee placed on the sale of new electronic products in the province. 

Terry Greene

Terry Greene, the program director for the province's Electronic Products Recycling Association, says a consumer fee helps divert electronics from landfills. (CBC)

"There's about 2,500 metric tonnes of electronics that go into the landfill every year here in Newfoundland and Labrador," said Greene. "So certainly there was an opportunity for us to be able to focus more on finding an alternative to having these things end up in the landfill."

The environmental handling fee, which was introduced this past August, can add up to $42.50 to the price of a new item, depending on its size. 

The fee is not a tax or a refundable deposit, but it goes into an industry-run electronics recycling program. 

The depots have been set up to accept a wide variety of used electronics, including televisions, computers and printers. 

Old electronics often contain toxic materials, such as lead and mercury. The recycling program ensures that those items are disposed of safely. 

"This is basically an opportunity, not only to avoid it going into the landfill, but also to reuse a lot of the materials," said Greene. "The plastics, the metals that are in electronics can be built in to new products."

Industry the problem, says Murphy

NDP Environment and Conservation Critic George Murphy said the problem lies with the industry. 

George Murphy

NDP Environment and Conservation Critic George Murphy. (CBC)

"They're not looking after you and me, as far as I'm concerned, but we're getting dinged for it," said Murphy. 

However, Joan Shea, the province's environment minister, said in the House of Assembly earlier this week that the tax is the most upfront way to introduce the fee.

"We could have simply asked the industry to take the cost, hide it into the price of their electronics, so that the consumer would never know it's happening, Mr. Speaker. We did not think that was appropriate to the consumers of this province," Shea said. 

Rural areas have no depots

While all consumers must pay the new fees, many rural areas have no recycling depots. 

Greene said it would be impossible to set up an electronics recycling depot in every community. "But we certainly want to build in a process by which we can get to almost all of the more rural communities and as an example, Labrador, we have nine communities that we will have a collection event, once the ice clears, this spring."

Murphy believes the new program is hurting local companies that recycle electronics. 

"The gold, the titanium and whatever other metals that are in there, the specialized metals, and they'll recycle them back there anyway and they've already been doing it for a profit and it hasn't cost us a cent. Why are we paying for it now?"

Murphy added that the provincial government is tacking the HST on top of the recycling fee. 

While some people have been complaining about the new program, others are taking advantage of it. Three hundred tonnes of old electronics have been diverted from the landfill since the program began in August.