US Government Officials Ask Electronics Industry to Take Back NYC Law Suit, and Take Back Gadgets

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Photo via Jaymi Heimbuch

For years, New York City has been working to toughen up electronics recycling laws, and for years the electronics industry has been less than thrilled. The city has gone forward with a plan that requires electronics manufacturers to offer free door-to-door pick-up service of used devices. However, electronics companies say this too expensive, too labor intensive, and too annoying - so they sued. Now, government officials from across the nation are asking the electronics industry to drop the suit, saying that it's not about a troublesome e-cycling regulation, it's about trying to take power away from the states to regulate e-waste.State and local government representatives from 18 states wrote a letter to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC), who filed the lawsuit, expressing their continued support for state and local laws that give the electronics manufacturers responsibility for financing effective takeback services for all the products they are selling in those states.

It is no surprise that many of the officials hail from among the 19 states that have take-back laws similar to NYC's, and the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on July 24, argues that the New York City e-waste recycling law passed in April 2008 is unconstitutional. None of the states want to see a similar lawsuit flung at them, and indeed, none of them should.

"This lawsuit isn't really about the New York City e-waste law," said Wisconsin State Senator Mark Miller, sponsor of Wisconsin's new e-waste law, which passed two weeks ago. "This is really about the rights of states and cities to say that the manufacturers of toxic products need to be responsible for their products when consumers are ready to discard them. The outcome of this case could impact producer responsibility laws in all of our states, on a whole host of products."

The other states are working hard to help New York City show that their laws are perfectly valid. According to the press release, "Earlier this week, local governments from New York State, Oregon and California and an independent government association submitted an amicus brief to the court - providing legal arguments challenging the industry claims in the lawsuit, and in support of New York City's right to enact its producer takeback law. Two states, Maine and Washington, have provided affidavits that were submitted as part of the New York City's legal filings. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has also intervened in the case, in support of the City's law, and is now a party to the case."

Voluntary recycling programs on the part of manufacturers do little good in collecting the millions of pounds of electronic waste generated annually. Mandatory laws ensure that far more is collected and properly recycled, and far less ends up contaminating landfills.

"While many of these electronics companies have voluntary recycling programs, most of them don't actually collect significant volumes of e-waste. The exception is where strong state laws make them do it," said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national environmental coalition that has supported state laws promoting "producer takeback" laws for electronics. "The industry complains about the 'patchwork of state solutions', but the truth is that if their voluntary takeback programs were better, states and cities wouldn't be passing these laws."

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

Arguments will begin in December....if the electronics industry continues on with this (let's call a spade a spade) selfish lawsuit.

More on Electronics Take-Back
What's Your e-Waste IQ?
The Nitty Gritty on e-Cycling: Buy-Back, Take-Back, and Recycling Programs
How Much eWaste Is Getting Recycled from Major Retailers?

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