Electronics Associations File Suit Against NYC Over Door-to-Door e-Waste Collection Law

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Photo by Jaymi Heimbuch

Going into effect on Friday, a new law in New York City mandates that manufacturers provide free, door-to-door electronics collection to city residents. In other words, manufacturers will have to make darn sure that e-waste is going into recycling streams, and not waste streams. However the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council are so peeved about the law that they're suing the city of New York, saying that it will "force hundreds of additional trucks onto city streets, needlessly increasing traffic congestion, air and noise pollution, and carbon emissions." Is this a big "green" cop out, or should electronics manufacturers be made to foot the bill for this door-to-door collection plan?Manufacturers Could Foot a Mighty Big Bill for Collection Efforts
CEA says manufacturers could see their costs increase upwards of $200 million annually due to the new collection plan (though where that number comes from is unclear).

"Despite the technology industry's best efforts to negotiate with New York City officials on a reasonable and effective recycling program, the City is proceeding with plans to impose the most costly, burdensome and environmentally harmful electronics recycling requirements in the world," said Dean Garfield, president and CEO of ITI. "At this point, we have no option but to file suit to avoid the disastrous environmental and economic consequences of this poorly conceived regulation. There is a better way to achieve the common goal of an effective recycling program."

Is It All Part of Electronics Manufacturer Responsibility?
It's true that manufacturers are getting a little better at voluntary recycling programs - they really have to if they expect to maintain a green edge. But it's also true that e-waste crimes abound, and recycling of electronics is far from perfect. If a door-to-door collection program can make a big enough difference, then it is worth it, and it seems that the makers of the products have a responsibility for what happens to their products at end of life.

According to the Wall Street Journal, similar programs that have popped up in other states have proven to be effective at boosting e-waste recycling, with Oregon residents collecting almost 5 million pounds of e-waste in the first quarter after the new law, and Washington is on target to collect almost 36 million pounds this year.

However, it is burdensome on the manufacturers who would foot the bill in New York City and elsewhere. Is it up to the manufacturers to figure out how to relieve their own burden? Could boosting volunteer recycling programs and consumer education on reuse and recycling ease the load since there would be less to collect through door-to-door efforts? Or is it simply up to the consumer to ensure that their gadgets end up in the right place, and perhaps it's they who should be fined for not recycling properly?

Why New York City's e-Waste Plan Is Getting Heat
The reason New York City's plan is more controversial, sparking litigation from CEA and ITIC, is because in addition to asking manufacturers to pay recycling costs, the city will require companies to provide free, door-to-door pickup of e-waste. Yet, the new laws sound like they simply enforce some real responsibility from manufacturers, rather than undue burden. From Government Technology:

The law will require electronics and technology manufacturers to pick up from residents homes any covered electronics produced by the manufacturer. The law also requires manufacturers to accept e-waste from any other manufacturer if the consumer is purchasing a similar item on a one-to-one basis. Smaller portable items are exceptions. For these items, manufacturers may establish drop-off sites or mail-in programs...In addition, the law requires manufacturers to track and report their sales in New York City and the amount of e-waste they recycle, among other data.

Much of the issue, though, is in manufacturers not having the local resources to implement such a plan cost effectively. As RTO points out:

Despite the fact that most manufacturers do not have a corporate presence in New York City nor the infrastructure to provide direct collection services to residents, the City's regulations place the entire cost of collecting and recycling old electronics products on manufacturers, including hundreds of U.S. companies whose products are shipped into the City by distributors.

All valid points. But again, is this not a sign that there are improvements manufacturers can make much earlier in the chain to avoid much of this burden in the first place? At any rate, the plaintiffs are saying that there must be a mix of manufacturers, consumers and government all taking roles and responsibilities, rather than the government placing the full burden on manufacturers.

What's your opinion?

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
More on e-Waste Issues
EPA Takes a Lax Approach to E-Waste Monitoring, GAO Report Finds
Number of the Day: 704.9 Million CRT Televisions
EPA Provides New E-Waste Guidelines, But Zero New Regulations
What's Your e-Waste IQ?

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