Time for a convenience tax

Convenience is like a drug; once we have access to it then its simply not manageable to return to the ways of old. While not all convenience is bad; when we put consumerism with it then we create a system of purchase and dump which is having truly negative effects on our planet. As I picked up garbage that people had so easily discarded along public areas it prompted me to think of how we as a society have become so careless about the items we purchase and how we discard things. We have promoted the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle but focused mainly on recycling and limited the reduce and reuse portion of the three. Thousands of everyday consumer items from disposable razors, coffee cups, plastic bottles, plastic bags etc are purchased in bulk only to be shortly thrown away. While we have gotten better in recycling some of these items many end up in landfills or in our parks, oceans and ecosystems. We need to find ways to reduce the amount of disposable items that people purchase and find ways to pushing people to reusable items. We cannot afford to continue to purchase and dispose of these items so willingly and without disregard. Education on the effects of disposables are one important means of reducing the use of the these items going forward but education can only go so far. How many people purchase items like a coffee from your local establishment without ever thinking of using a reusable cup. I am not going to play innocent in these games I have as well been a part of the issue when it comes to purchase disposable items and simply tossing them or recycling them without thoughts for what happens after. So that leaves us in the conundrum of how do we change the habits of people to reduce the use of disposable items in a more meaningful and direct way.

In my mind the only true way is to hit people in the pocket book. When oil prices skyrocketed the number of smaller CUV’s, small cars, electric cars increased to almost a 25% of the total vehicle purchases for that quarter. When there was a decrease in the price of oil the demand for these vehicles declined (Fuels Institute) but we see that the cost of an item creates a change in the way that people react and act. We have to think that this principle can be applied to these items that we use on a daily basis that are thrown away and pollute our environment. If we can create a decline in the amount of disposable items in our consumer chain then we can have drastic effects on the environment and our own personal health.

In Ontario, we pay for the price of the item and then the HST. For certain items like electronics there are added charges for the future recycling of that item based on their size and scale. This helps to promote the end game recycling but doesn’t cool the initial demand. In order for us to reduce the amount of disposable items in our society we need to look at reducing the demand which means a cost up front and an end game cost.

For example:

Razor: $12.40 (initial cost) with heads that last roughly a month. Replacement heads are $2.00 + HST
Disposable Razor: $2.50 (initial cost) last 2-3 uses. Pack of 6-10 in a package.

Most individuals from a cost perspective would likely choose the disposable because there is a much larger cost associated with the reusable razor compared to the disposable. If we introduce a per unit tax or a convenience tax into the mix then it could increase the cost and level the playing field. A tax of 5% per unit or in the case of a 10 unit razor 0.0125 per unit means that the cost jumps from $2.50 to $2.625. This initial tax which would be used to reduce the cost associated with the purchase of the item would be tailored to help reduce the number of units in the public hands and create additional cost which could deter individuals from make these short term purchases. Like the electronics tax there would need to be additional funds needed to help municipalities clean their facilities from these items, properly and effectively recycle these items and dispose of them. We need funds to make this happen so another 5% per unit for a total of 10% per unit could be added to the price of purchase to help deter individuals. Meaning that initial cost of $2.50 at the end of the purchase is now $2.75 which could be changed and upgraded to determine the rate and pace of change within the population the government was trying to enforce. That $0.25 on “EPA estimates of 2 billion razors are thrown away each year” (Groundswell) (US figures) or roughly about $250 Million in new tax revenue and $250 million to cities and states for recycling, cleaning and waste reduction from disposable razors alone.

But disposable razors aren’t the only one we need to look at. There are thousands of items which a tax could apply to that helps to reduce the waste of disposable items. One of these most common items is a coffee cup and while the cup itself is recyclable the lid isn’t. Thousands of these cups end up tossed on the side of the road, in garbage cans and everywhere but where they should be. For most people their morning starts with a Tim Horton’s Coffee or Tea (Now I don’t associate blame with Tim Horton’s for their cups being on the ground that’s the responsibility of the individual) its on average $2.00 and it comes in that well known container. Inside are multiple different options for your morning coffee which are reusable, effective and have a long life. On top of that Tim Horton’s gives you 10 cents off to use one of their reusable cups to purchase your coffee. I myself purchase a large which comes to $1.90 and typically don’t ask for the 0.10 cents back with a reuseable cup that means I could be reducing my own cost. If I give away that 0.20 cents every time I make a purchase it means every 10 days I could be getting a free coffee.

Coffee: $1.90
Reuseable Cup: $3.50

After 17 trips to Tim Horton’s I have made up for that cost of owning the reusable mug. I have taken 17 disposable containers out of the system which wont be littered, discarded or end up in a landfill. Plus the mug helps to keep the coffee warmer for longer among many other benefits. But what if we were to add the cost associated with a convenience tax to the purchase of that coffee.

Coffee: $1.90 + 10% = $0.19 or $2.09 a unit. Tim Horton’s pour roughly 2 billion coffee’s annually with a majority of these being in the disposable containers which means that $190 million in new revenue and $190 million to municipalities and cities for recycling programs could be generated annually from these cups alone.

A convenience tax between these 2 items alone would add $880 million into the tax revenues and the funding allocations for cleaning, recycling, landfills of cities across the country.

There are so many more items that we could add to this list that would provide billions of dollars in new revenue for governments, introduce recycling programs for communities who don’t have one and expand others. Our communities would be cleaner and we as a society would be much happier in this cleaner environment. We need to start making changes to the way we live and the way we purchase items in order to protect the communities we have.

References:

http://www.fuelsinstitute.org/researcharticles/fuel-prices-auto-sales.pdf
http://groundswell.org/2-billion-tossed-per-year-whats-the-most-wasteful-bathroom-product/

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