July 27, 2009 By Emily Montandon, Associate Editor
Two technology industry associations filed a brief last week in the U.S. District Court of Southern New York challenging a New York City e-waste law requiring manufacturers to arrange for door-to-door pick up of unwanted electronics.
The law, which passed in February 2008 and is slated to take effect Friday, has been called irresponsible and onerous by the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council.
The law will require electronics and technology manufacturers to pick up from residents homes any covered electronics produced by the manufacturer. The law also requires manufacturers to accept e-waste from any other manufacturer if the consumer is purchasing a similar item on a one-to-one basis. Smaller portable items are exceptions. For these items, manufacturers may establish drop-off sites or mail-in programs.
Manufacturers that don't comply will be forced to pay stiff penalties. In addition, the law requires manufacturers to track and report their sales in New York City and the amount of e-waste they recycle, among other data. The suit also addresses a separate but related law that requires the manufacturers to meet minimum collection standards.
The two associations are seeking to enjoin the law by July 31, the deadline for manufacturers to submit plans for how they will meet the new requirements.
The two organizations claim in the suit that New York City has reached beyond its powers by attempting to regulate businesses from around the world that may have no operations in the city, violating federal commerce laws. The suit claims the law is in violation of federal law because it places a higher cost burden on manufacturers that aren't based in the city and that the costs incurred by manufacturers implementing the program will be passed on to consumers outside the city's jurisdiction. The suit also alleges that the city has violated state laws by not conducting a study to determine the program's environmental impact.
The two associations maintain that the law will ultimately put more trucks on the street to collect old electronics and will contribute to increases in traffic congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.
"They've created an environmental problem by trying to address this environmental challenge," said Parker Brugge, vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability for CEA.
He said the associations would like to see a national system that involves all stakeholders and allows some flexibility to find the most cost-effective approach. However, absent such a nationwide model, the association would prefer that the state legislate the e-waste program, as the organizations believe some states have implemented what they consider good programs.
At the very least, according to Brugge, the associations want to see a program that involves all stakeholders, including consumers and local governments.
"We also think that we should be able to tap into the local infrastructure. Localities are picking up recyclable products in many, many -- in all jurisdictions these days -- plastics and paper and glass, and they could provide assistance with the collection of these products," Brugge said.
The approach taken by the law, he said, places the entire cost burden -- which the associations estimate will be in the neighborhood of $200 million -- on manufacturers small and large alike, and some smaller businesses may not be able to support the costs.
"We think just the incredible cost of this will be more impactful, more damaging to smaller companies that could be forced out of the market," Brugge said.
In a statement, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said manufacturers were trying to "duck their responsibility to New Yorkers."
Quinn dismissed the lawsuit as corporate self-interest and vowed to fight it, saying, "We strongly believe that the only way to ensure an effective e-waste recycling program is to provide convenient collection without imposing an excessive burden on New Yorkers."
City Council Member Bill de Blasio, the bill's lead sponsor said in an e-mail that the bill is in line with what some states are doing.
"Our electronics recycling law is a national model, and reflects the high standards that have already been set in jurisdictions such as Minnesota and Indiana," he said. "I believe that the law can and should be implemented effectively to protect our environment and our health. I hope to continue working with the City and manufacturers toward making that a reality."