Earth Day E-Waste Victory!

OK, it's not quite Earth Day.  But today was the official Earth Day Lobby Day in Albany, and - after much anticipation - the Senate passed an electronic waste (e-waste) recycling bill by a unanimous 61-0 vote!

And not just any e-waste bill, either.  This bill represents arguably the most progressive, best researched e-waste bill in the country.  It takes advantage of all we have learned about how so-called manufacturer “takeback programs” are best structured, building off the groundbreaking, successful e-waste laws that already exist in states including Washington, Oregon and Minnesota, as well as that enacted in New York City in 2008.

In a nutshell, like its predecessors, this bill would require manufacturers to take back their toxin-containing used electronics from consumers for responsible recycling.  This not only gets these dangerous products out of our landfills and incinerators where they can contaminate our water and air, it removes the burden of handling this fastest-growing part of the municipal waste stream from municipalities and taxpayers.  And it encourages manufacturers to design products in the future that are easier - and hence cheaper - to recycle in the first place. Ultimately, this should result in products that have fewer toxic components, and more reusable and recyclable components, requiring less use of virgin materials.

Under this law, manufacturers would be responsible for meeting reasonable, but real, performance standards for their recycling programs, ensuring that they are convenient for consumers and robust.

And the state bill would preempt New York City's law.  While we're a fan of that law having played a big role in seeing it enacted, a pending industry lawsuit challenging it is so broad it threatens to bring down takeback laws across the country.  Passage of the state bill would moot out that case and remove the industry threat.  (The state bill actually enjoys broad industry support, and does not contain the controversial provision in the New York City regulations that precipitated the industry suit.)

NRDC has been leading the charge, along with our environmental allies, policymakers and elected officials, to push us over the elusive e-waste finish line in New York in 2010. Last year, we managed to get a similar e-waste bill through the state Assembly, which was introduced by the Governor. Now, we’ve gotten through the Senate, which is a major step forward.  But we are not quite there yet.

We’ll be looking now for the two houses to get together and hammer out a reconciliation bill that would resolve the one, relatively minor point of divergence between their bills.  That issue is the extent to which manufacturers should be allowed to continue to charge large businesses for collecting their e-waste, which many currently do under long-term provider contracts.

This is simply too minor an issue in the overall scheme of things - and the houses are simply too close - to let this opportunity slip by yet again.  Governor Paterson has been a strong leader on this bill from the get-go, and can play an important role in bringing the two bodies together.  And Assembly Member Sweeney and Senator Thompson have been strong leaders in getting the bills passed in their houses.  We look to them now to finish the job.  2010 has to be the year that all New Yorkers get the opportunity to give back the used electronics that clutter their garages and closets for safe, responsible recycling. 

Please take the time to thank your Senators and Assembly Members for having passed the e-waste bill and to encourage them to make sure a two-house bill passes THIS year!