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Home Depot’s decision to stop accepting waste paint and compact fluorescent bulbs for recycling is a sad setback, and another sign of trouble in Ontario’s waste reduction and diversion strategy.

It is important to collect every possible used fluorescent bulb (and not throw them into landfills) because of the mercury they can contain. Few enough residents will save their bulbs and take them back to a convenient store; far fewer will make a special trek to a municipal transfer site, as Home Depot cheerily suggests.

I agree with Recycling Council of Ontario’s Jo-Anne St. Godard that retailers like Home Depot are not given enough incentives to bother with product stewardship programs. Worse, though, may be a second problem: the very high fines that are now imposed on waste-related offences, coupled with the heavy personal liabilities imposed upon officers and directors, with no exception for well-intended efforts to do the right thing. This aggressive enforcement approach makes it unnecessarily risky for retailers to handle wastes, especially “hazardous” ones like liquids (such as paint) or compact fluorescent bulbs. No wonder Home Depot cited “changes to the enforcement of compliance requirements in a number of provinces” as the grounds for abandoning their take-back program.

High fines and aggressive enforcement are essential to deal with bad people doing bad things, but can be seriously counter-productive when applied to good people who are already trying to do the right thing.

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