Court Dismisses NYC E-Waste Recycling Suit
Manufacturers responsible for paying for collection and recycling of old electronics.
Credit: Photo by Douglas Heyman for the 4th Bin, a NYC e-waste rescue company dedicated to making e-cycling easy and inexpensive.
June 30, 2010 by Jason Knott

A federal court judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and Information Technology Industries Council (ITIC) against the New York City electronics waste recycling law adopted last year.

The case was rendered moot when the New York legislature passed a statewide e-waste bill that pre-empted the city’s law. That bill was signed into law by Governor Patterson on May 28. Both the state and city laws hold the manufacturers responsible for paying for collection and recycling of old electronics.

The judge was scheduled to hear arguments from both sides in February 2010, when all parties to the case agreed to participate in voluntary settlement negotiations. The settlement negotiations have been deemed productive and substantial enough that the city and the CE industry have agreed to continue to hold these meetings to build on the progress made so far in planning how to collect e-waste for recycling and reuse in the city.

“We hope (and have every reason to believe) that these good discussions will continue, as the need for meaningful e-waste collection opportunities in NYC will persist, albeit now under the terms of the state law, which becomes effective next April,” says Kate Sinding, senior attorney for NRDC, who participated in the negotiations.

The New York City law was passed in May 2008 and was scheduled to be implemented in July 2009. A week before the deadline for manufacturers to submit recycling plans with the City, the CEA and ITIC filed an injunction against implementation of the City law, claiming the law was unconstitutional. While the industry highlighted the provision under the city regulations requiring them to collect old products from residents’ homes, the case challenged the city’s constitutional right to establish producer responsibility for recycling their old products.

The case created a strong response by state officials, local government officials, non-governmental organizations and others in support of producer responsibility and product stewardship. On November 5, 2009, over 60 state and local officials from 18 states sent a letter to CEA and ITIC calling on these industry associations to withdraw their lawsuit against the New York City e-waste law, calling it a challenge to the states’ rights to legislate producer responsibility. Some local governments and product stewardship organizations submitted an amicus brief in the court, in support of the New York City law.

“Here we had many electronics companies who had very clear public statements in support of producer takeback and producer takeback laws, yet they were hiding behind their industry associations that were calling these laws ‘unconstitutional,’” says Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. “This was a very bad PR position for these companies to be in, and it made them want to settle this case, and made it easier to pass the legislation at the state level.”

The state legislation, which was strongly supported by environmental groups like NRDC, Clean New York, and NY Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), is one of the strongest in the country, covering a wide range of products for recycling, and covering products from consumers, schools, non-profits, governments and small business. It requires the manufacturers to meet collection goals and provide convenient collection. Many speculate that other tough recycling laws are on the way.

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