Josh Lindquist, metals pit supervisor at Raven Recycling, is surrounded by used electronics on Jan. 11, which had been brought in to be recycled. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Frustration greets YG town halls on Yukon’s tire, e-waste recycling fees

‘I am frustrated because there’s no actual answers to any of the questions’

Frustrated.

Shafted.

Neglected.

Those were the words that some participants used to describe how they felt following two town hall meetings on the Yukon government’s proposed recycling fees for tires and electronics held in Whitehorse Jan. 9 to 10.

The meetings, attended by Minister of Community Services John Streicker, Minister of Environment Pauline Frost and other Yukon government staff, were among the territorial government’s efforts to address criticism that it had not done proper — or any — consultation with industry before creating its fees plan. Streicker had originally announced the fee plan back in May 2017 with an implementation date of Feb. 1, 2018, but it’s since been delayed after outcry from local businesses.

On both nights — the first, dedicated to tires, and the second, to electronics — a facilitator led a roughly two-hour-long discussion in a conference room at the Westmark Hotel on what attendees thought the government needed to keep in mind as it reshapes it plans on fees.

Streicker and Frost were among those sitting in a large circle of chairs in the middle of the room, but the facilitator referred to them as “keynote listeners,” asking attendees to not ask the ministers questions and for the ministers to not participate in the discussion.

Chief among the concerns on both nights was that the current proposed fees, which will be paid at the point of purchase instead of at the dump, would make Yukon businesses less competitive than businesses based Outside, and that the government hasn’t clearly explained and broken down how it arrived at its current proposed fee schedule.

The tire meeting was more widely attended, with dozens of attendees showing up wearing uniforms or hats bearing the logo of local Whitehorse auto and tire shops. Although the facilitator attempted to keep the conversation focused on creating a list of criteria for the new fees to meet, the discussion grew heated at times as some attendees accused the government of not being open with how it calculated its fee schedule and unfairly targeting commercial trucks (the proposed fee for tires larger than 22 inches is $50, compared to $15 for tires between 18 to 22 inches and $7 for tires 17 inches and under).

Auto shop owners also said the way government tracks tires based on total tonnage is inconsistent with how the industry tracks them by type, creating a discrepancy in numbers on what’s actually being shipped in and out of the Yukon and also failing to take into account tires that are sent down south not for disposal, but to be recapped.

Although there was agreement that some sort of tire recycling or disposal program is needed for old tires, at the end of the night, Integra Tire shop foreman John Malak said he thought several key questions remained unanswered.

“What I got out of today was (the Yukon government) has all the answers and I feel like today was a big waste of time for most of us because they came in with their books closed and they wouldn’t open their books or wouldn’t tell us anything … which is not the way today should have went,” Malak said.

“I think we should have been honest with them and they should have been brutally honest with us and told us what the numbers are and asked for our assistance to get them the proper numbers and we could have went from there, forward, to a better solution for everybody.”

Fountain Tire owner Sheldon Greenough agreed.

“I am frustrated because there’s no actual answers to any of the questions,” he said. “(The Yukon government) should have some sort of base, they should have a budget, they should have something they can give us that we can actually start the process with but there’s been nothing.… It affects me dearly, so, that’s my livelihood, it’s my guys’ livelihoods, so you have to know. I just wish there was more information. I wish I would have gotten more out of it.”

The electronics town hall the following night drew a smaller but equally passionate crowd, with the discussion almost derailing shortly after everyone introduced themselves. Several attendees, which included owners and managers of local stores as well as employees from Northwestel and Tangerine Technology, said they only showed up to talk about the proposed fee schedule for various electronics, which they described as making “no sense” and a “death sentence” for local electronics businesses.

Like the tire crowd, attendees at the electronics meeting asked for the Yukon government to “open its books,” saying it was unclear how the government had arrived at its fees schedule or what exactly the government meant by some of its product categories.

“Because of the lack of engagement with the industry, I think there’s a disconnect on what we’re actually trying to solve, and when you look at the fee schedule, $15 for a desktop computer — what is a desktop computer?” TechYukon vice-president Martin Lehner asked after the meeting. “Most people think it’s (a desktop computer tower) — that’s not what it is these days, no one’s buying those… the new product is a tenth of the weight, a tenth of the size, takes a tenth of the power from electricity to run.”

Lehner added that he was “disappointed” there wasn’t a specific discussion about the fees themselves and how the government had calculated them, which he said was what he primarily attended the meeting to find out.

“I think there was good discussion that happened from both a personal point of view and from my role as TechYukon’s (designated materials regulation) sub-committee… (but) I would like to see a discussion on the actual fees — what’s reasonable, what’s not reasonable, how we come to these numbers,” he said.

“We still don’t have any answers as to how these numbers arrived at what they are… It’s one of our largest issues, is the fee schedule itself, and it would be really great if we could actually have a conversation about the fees.”

In an interview following the electronics town hall, Streicker said the meetings have been “hard” but “super productive.”

“We had all the players in the room and there was agreement that we need to move forward with it,” he said. “There’s some tough details to sort through, but it looks to me like there’s a willingness to sort through it. From a government perspective, that’s terrific, that we’ll get to work together.”

He added that, after hearing the confusion about how the fees were calculated, the government will “absolutely” be sharing its data, with a goal of having initial numbers available within the next week.

“We totally want that transparency, and we’re asking (industry) to do the same back,” he said, noting that both tire companies and Northwestel have already offered to share their point-of-sale information to give the government a better picture of what’s entering the market.

“I like the cards-on-the-table notion and what I heard … is that industry, companies, all the groups that are coming to the table are willing to share their information, so, that really made it super constructive, these two nights. Hard, for sure, but a lot of ground got covered, for sure.”

With files from Ashley Joannou

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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