Big advances in e-recycling for New Yorkers

Earth Day presents an excellent opportunity for an update on e-waste recycling initiatives in New York, where things are developing at a fast and furious pace.

You may recall that last summer the New York City Council passed landmark legislation enacting the first municipal extended producer responsibility (EPR)-based electronics recycling law in the country.  Though similar to many of the laws that exist in 17 other states, the NYC bill is special in two regards.

First, it represents "pure EPR."  Instead of giving manufacturers a choice between running their own programs to take back their electronic products from consumers at the end of their useful lives for recycling OR paying into a government-run program to do so (so-called "pay or play"), manufacturers in NYC must play.  One of the primary concepts underlying EPR is that by requiring producers to internalize the costs of handling their products at end of life, they will have the incentive to design their products so that they are less toxic and easier (and hence cheaper) to recycle.  The "play only" approach most directly achieves this objective.

Second, it contains mandatory minimum collection standards that manufacturers must meet each year, measured as a percentage by weight of what they sold in the City in the prior year.  Stiff penalties may be assessed for failure to meet these mandatory collection requirements.  Enforcement performance standards like these are the simplest and surest way to ensure that manufacturers design programs that will take back the maximum amount of obsolete TVs, computers and other electronics from consumers.

Although we would have liked to see them sooner, we were happy to see the NYC Department of Sanitation issue its final rules to implement the City law a week ago today.  The delay in publication will unfortunately mean that City residents are almost certain to have to wait longer for a viable means of getting rid of their unwanted electronics than they should given the law's passage almost a year ago - and the digital conversion that will render non-digital TVs obsolete in June - and this is unfortunate.  But we are very pleased that the final rules suggest Sanitation's intention to implement the mandatory minimum collection standards that go into effect in 2012.  (You may recall that the mayor vetoed this portion of the law, which was then overridden by the City Council, making the standards the law of the City.  While we may yet need to fight to see the standards enforced given the mayor's antipathy towards them, their inclusion in the final rules sounds a hopeful note.)

The other big news is that the NYS Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee today passed a comprehensive EPR e-waste bill (A7571) that would cover the entire state as part of its Earth Day package of measures.  This same bill passed through the entire Assembly and out of the Senate Environment Committee last year before dying in conference.  Although the bill isn't perfect, and opposition by manufacturers remains a weighty obstacle, we remain very hopeful that, with both houses and the Governorship in a single party's hands, we'll see an e-waste bill enacted for the state as a whole this year.

Stay tuned for further reports of the future of e-waste regulation in New York...