Fighting over scrap

Ontario critics question the logic behind proposed tire policy.

Mountains of scrap tires are always a political hot potato, not to mention an eyesore and a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes. And should a fire ensue, a tire inferno is a firefighter's worst nightmare. So, at first glance, the environmental initiative being championed by Ontario Tire Stewardship looks like a squeaky-clean way of dealing with the 11 million tires discarded each year in the province. On closer inspection, however, critics say its stinks worse than burnt rubber. They call it a solution desperately in search of a problem.

Ontario repealed its $5 tire tax about a decade ago. Ever since, retailers have charged consumers around $3 per tire to cover disposal costs under a market-driven system. According to Glenn Warnica, president of the Ontario Tire Dealers Association, this laissez-faire system has worked surprisingly well. He says the private sector effectively handles more than 90% of scrap tires, and he thinks inspectors with the Ministry of the Environment do a superb job fining landowners who refuse to clean up messes.

Under the proposed stewardship plan, retailers will pay a mandatory fee–$3.65 per passenger tire and $5.50 per truck tire–that will go toward cleanup. The Ontario Tire Dealers Association predicts this new “tire tax”–which is supported by big retailers such as Canadian Tire and Wal-Mart, as well as manufacturers–will cost tire dealers and consumers almost $50 million a year and result in little environmental improvement. As Warnica notes, the proposed program will add “inordinate costs” to small tire dealers and provide inadequate revenues to scrap-tire collectors.

Mike Moffat, president of the Ontario Tire Collectors Association, says only 4% of fees collected during the first year will help provide financial incentives to technologies that utilize scrap rubber. He also says the new OTS program will effectively subsidize domestic cement kilns to burn waste tires. “We not only believe that the plan is flawed public policy, but that several key elements of the plan are contrary to provisions in the Waste Diversion Act.”

Glenn Maidment, chair of Ontario Tire Stewardship, says critics are using “gross misrepresentation” when they suggest money raised by the tire tax will profit cement kilns. “Over the next five years, once we get an implementation schedule in, we'll see the bulk of the tires going to the 3Rs,” says Maidment.

The plan, of course, is still in its public consultation phase. Let's hope people aren't too tired to care.