Eco fees slapped on thousands of household products failed to strike the right balance between protecting the environment and protecting consumers, Premier Dalton McGuinty admitted yesterday as the province announced it would scrap the program.

“I’m confident that we have found a better way to strike that balance that is much more sensitive to what our families are going through right now,” McGuinty said after an unrelated event.

“They’re very sensitive to additional costs, they’re very anxious about the economy, and our responsibility is to be sensitive to that.”

The eco fees kicked in July 1, the same day the much-publicized harmonized sales tax took effect in Ontario. But there was no advance warning, and consumers felt blindsided by a dizzying array of charges on 9,000 products including bleach, household cleaners and laundry detergent.

The government decided to dramatically scale back the recycling program after the complaints, and after realizing most of containers for the products involved can be put into Blue Boxes for recycling as long as they’re empty, said Environment Minister John Wilkinson.

“What was announced on July 1 wasn’t working for people and it wasn't working for us,” admitted Wilkinson.

“We are now entering into an agreement with municipalities about some materials that are definitely hazardous and we have to make sure that they stay out of our landfill.”

Municipalities will be given about $8 million a year to help them deal with old fire extinguishers, rechargeable batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, needles, pharmaceuticals and any mercury-containing devices, Wilkinson added.

Despite the government’s announcement yesterday, not all eco fees are being scrapped.

Programs that existed prior to July 1 which divert, recycle and dispose of tires, electronics such as television sets and household waste such as paint and single-use batteries will continue to charge eco fees to consumers.

“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said Wilkinson.