Virtually everyone believes that it is good public policy to encourage the recycling of old electronic products, including computers, cathode ray tubes, televisions, printers and portable music devices. Nearly 20 states have e-waste laws on the books. However, New York City recently enacted an e-recycling law (over Mayor Bloomberg's veto), the first municipality in the United States to do so, that is so overly aggressive and costly that trade associations for the electronics industry have filed suit to block the law's implementation. Under the law, if a television manufacturer is apprised, for example, that a homeowner on East 87th Street is desirous of recycling his 15 year old television, the manufacturer is required to make a special trip to pick it up on East 87th Street, regardless of the fact that the cost of this pick-up may be prohibitively expensive and was never factored into the cost of the television when it was sold for $279.99 at Best Buy in 1994. Worse, if the television is an "orphan", for whom no manufacturer currently doing business can be identified, there is still an obligation to drive up to East 87th Street and haul it away. My own Sony Trinitron is more over 15 years old having provided me with flawless service from the day I brought it home from The Wiz in Herald Square. But I hardly expect Sony to drive to my house to pick it up all these years later! For goodness sakes! It's a television set, not a hazardous CERLCA waste! This law appears to confuse the CERLCA statute, which holds generators of waste responsible for their disposal practices years after the fact, and the sale of a useful product, such as a television. A worthwhile discussion of the dispute, with some helpful background links, can be found in Meline MacCurdy's article of Aug. 12, 2009 in the Marten Law Group's Environmental News titled, "Electronic Manufacturers Challenge New York City E-Waste Law."
The electronic industry alleges that this program will cost manufacturers over $200,000,000 per year and that, on a per pound basis, the cost of collection alone will be ten times more expensive that the total cost of collection and recycling in California and Maine, two states that have promulgated e-recycling statutes. Among other arguments, the manufacturers allege that the NYC statute violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution by targeting only certain types of electronic equipment while excluding other electronic equipment containing the same types of potentially harmful substances, and constitutes a regulatory taking and violates the manufacturers' substantive due process rights. Some e-recycling advocates and environmentalists are concerned that this lawsuit may represent the first step of an attempted roll-back by industry of the e-recycling strides made in other states. The Electronic TakeBack Coalition, whose motto is "Take it Back, Make it Green, Recycle Responsibly," has issued a call-to-arms on its web-site, "Electronic Industry Attacks Product Stewardship with Lawsuit in New York City". If interested in reviewing the pleadings filed in the lawsuit, the Electronic TakeBack Coalition web-site is a great resource. Unfortunately, this entire controversy does nothing to advance the cause of e-recycling. If the New York legislature enacted a state-wide e-recycling measure, which is what is needed here, NYC could gracefully withdraw from the fray by rescinding its Draconian measure and permit the state legislation to take effect.