NYC: Test Case in E-waste Battle
Electronics recycling laws face challenge from trade groups.
Credit: Photo by Douglas Heyman for the 4th Bin, a NYC e-waste rescue company dedicated to making e-cycling easy and inexpensive.
January 13, 2010 by Steven Castle

Electronics recycling laws adopted in many states could face challenges, depending on what happens in a federal court case filed by trade groups from the consumer electronics and computer industries.

An electronics recycling law adopted last year in New York City is being challenged in U.S. District Court by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), who say the law is unworkable and will cost too much money to implement.

At the heart of the matter appears to be a requirement that manufacturers offer door-to-door pickup services in New York City for any device weighing more than 15 pounds, which includes TVs and many old CRT-based computer monitors, as well as some other electronics.

The New York City law requires the door-to-door pick-up services because residents in the city often don’t have vehicles to transport heavy items to pick-up sites, says Barbara Kyle of the Electronics Takeback Coalition.

In an interview on Treehugger, CEA Vice President of Environmental Affairs and Corporate Sustainability Parker Brugge says the trade organization has attempted to work with the city on alternative e-cycling methods, and has proposed local recycling events. According to the CEA, the city says manufacturers would have to establish 59 permanent electronics recycling sites throughout the city. The CEA estimates that the New York City law could cost the industry $200 million a year.

But Kyle says the issue is not just about door-to-door pickup. She says the trade groups are really challenging the constitutionality of producer responsibility laws already adopted in a number of states. Producer responsibility laws put the onus and cost of recycling electronics on the manufacturers and not consumers.

For example, the trade groups say that when a person purchases a TV or computer, he or she enters into a contract with the manufacturer, and producer responsibility laws violate a contracts clause in United States’ Constitution. The trade groups also claim the e-cycling law in New York City violates interstate commerce clauses, due process and equal protection laws by targeting electronics manufacturers.

“They say it’s about the door-to-door requirement. But it’s really an end run around the laws being passed around the country and in New York City,” Kyle says. Though the court case concerns only New York City, Kyle says, “If they prevail, it opens the door for them to challenge all [electronics] take-back laws. I would expect them to file suits in other states.”

The result of the case could also shape electronics recycling laws in states that don’t yet have them.

“Our position is that recycling is a shared responsibility,” says the CEA’s Brugge.

According to Kyle, the New York City law is not as onerous as it sounds. “Most of these companies have mail-in programs, so there would be very little if anything they would have to pick up.” Kyle says the electronics manufacturers could also form a cooperative or joint venture, much like MRM recycling, which is operated jointly by Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba, and they could set scheduled pickups in neighborhoods within the city.

Oral arguments in the case were to begin next week, but the judge has asked to reschedule the case, which may push it back to February.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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