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Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen, shown in this 2003 file photo, said his government is ending the controversial eco fee program. ((Tobin Grimshaw/Canadian Press))

Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen has confirmed that the province is dropping its eco fee program, saying he takes "full responsibility" for not doing a better job of communicating the introduction of the new charges.

The fees, which went into effect on July 1, applied to a wide variety of items, including batteries, soap, fire extinguishers and paint.

The fees were collected by manufacturers and retailers to help fund a recycling program that diverts those potentially hazardous items from landfills.

But there was no public warning that the eco fee would be slapped on thousands of new items this month.

"These new eco fees are gone," Gerretsen told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

"That means all products added on July the 1st will not have any fee on them."

Stewardship Ontario, an industry-led organization appointed by the government to oversee the program, collected the fees from retailers and manufacturers.

Manufactures and retailers, in turn, determined which fees they would pass on to consumers.

"The bottom line is Stewardship Ontario could have done a better job for rolling out the changes, and we, the Ministry of the Environment, the government, and I as minister, could have done a better job of helping them communicate their changes, and I take full responsibility for that," said Gerretsen.

Program being re-evaluated

People who have already had to pay eco fees since July 1 will not be refunded, Gerretsen said. All that money will go to Stewardship Ontario, he said.

Gerretsen couldn't say how much money has been collected by the agency since the start of the month, but stressed that "not one penny of this comes to the government."

The government will take 90 days to re-evaluate the program, he said. It will fork over up to $5 million during that time to keep the program going.

The government signalled its reversal shortly after Canadian Tire announced Monday it would stop charging the fee because the program was too confusing.

The fees are part of a larger program called Orange Drop, which aims to make it easier for people to dispose of hazardous materials in a way that ensures they don't end up on the landfill.

The Orange Drop program in turn builds on the Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste Program, first introduced in July 2008, aimed at increasing diversion of hazardous materials. The program provides drop zones throughout the province where consumers can dispose of the products on the overall list.

In 2008, the government outlined nine categories of products that it said were designated for recycling and disposal. On July 1, 13 more categories of products were added to that list.