NYC e-waste lawsuit officially dismissed

Following the long-anticipated enactment of a statewide electronic waste recycling law by the New York State Legislature in late May, the industry has formally withdrawn its lawsuit challenging New York City's e-waste law.  As I have written, the recently enacted state law - one of the strongest of its kind in the nation - expressly preempts NYC's law, which effectively rendered the lawsuit moot.

The voluntary dismissal of the industry lawsuit - which was memorialized in a court order today - is most welcome news. Initially, it means that residents of New York City, who have been expecting to have mandatory e-waste recycling available since the city law's passage in 2008, can finally look forward to having a free and convenient means of returning their unwanted Tvs and computers for responsible recycling.

Perhaps more importantly, it removes the threat the lawsuit posed to e-waste and other so-called producer responsibility or product stewardship laws in other states around the nation.  As I've addressed previously, though industry's gripe was fundamentally with a narrow aspect of the city's proposed regulations to implement the law, the suit was so broadly framed that it put in jeopardy any law based on the notion that the manufacturers of consumer products should bear the financial responsibility for their disposition at end-of-life.  In a nutshell, the concept of producer responsibility holds that if manufacturers must internalize the costs of handling their products at the time of disposal, they will be encouraged to design them so as to be less toxic, more easily reused or recycled, etc.  This is an idea that has caught on in more than 20 states in every region of the country (as well as Europe, Canada, Japan and elsewhere), and is being applied to products beyond electronics, including paint, carpets, pharmaceuticals and others.  The industry lawsuit threatened to impede if not derail its progress, and as such the formal dismissal is an extremely positive development.

Not that everything about the lawsuit was regrettable.  One of the silver linings was the way in which it brought the plaintiff manufacturers and the city together to develop workable solutions to the very real practical obstacles to collection in New York City.  Because of its low rates of car ownership and dense living arrangements, how collection might best be implemented in the city poses serious challenges.  Through settlement negotiations, the parties made significant progress toward addressing those challenges and devising viable collection alternatives that should both serve New York City residents and accommodate the business needs of the manufacturers charged under the law with taking back their products.  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).

All sides deserve congratulations for the hard work and good faith they brought to the settlement table - elements that augur well for New York State's nascent e-waste program.