Industry strikes back: Tech companies weigh in on NYC recycling law tussle

Industry weighs in on New York City tech recycling law, describing its parameters as "the most costly and burdensome requirements in the world."

First things first, and I know this comment was directed at me personally because of the headline of one of my previous blogs about this matter: The two major tech associations behind an unprecedented green tech recycling lawsuit that has been filed in New York City want to be sure that the general public understands that this is not a matter of consumer vs. producer responsibility.

Representatives of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) say their members wish to be known as "responsible stewards of the environment" and many of them are already acting in that regard, by managing voluntary takeback and recycling programs for their products. They estimate that the tech industry collected and recycled roughly 200 million pounds of discarded consumer electronics gadgets last year, and that amount could double this year.

"We embrace the concept of producer responsibility," says Parker Brugge, vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability for the CEA. "New York's law is the only law being challenged because of its extreme requirements." Brugge and his colleague, Rick Goss, vice president of environment and sustainability for the ITI, repeatedly described those requirements as "burdensome, costly and unique" on a phone call intended to share their side of the story. Representatives for the City and for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has jumped in, held a call a couple of weeks ago.

The thing that really has the industry (and, actually, NYC's own waste management union) up in arms is the concept of direct collection. Their suit takes issue with a clause that mandates direct collection of technology that weighs any more than 15 pounds from the residents' home. Think about how many apartment buildings are in Manhattan alone, and it's mind-boggling. The cost to producers of supporting such a program would be "crushing" and could be especially detrimental to smaller technology vendors, according to Brugge.

That's why the CEA and ITI are hoping for a preliminary injunction that will halt enforcement of the law until the whole mess is sorted out. Hearings on that injunction are currently scheduled for Feb. 10. The CEA and ITI say they tried to sort things out with the city but were forced to file the suit because the city was unwilling to negotiate.

Aside from the direct collection issue, Goss says there are two other big red flags in NYC's legislation. The first is the suggestion that manufacturers provide free services for the collection of orphaned products (gadgets that were produced by companies that are now out of business) and also that they meet certain collection volumes each year. The penalties for missing the mark are pretty big: the penalties START at $50,000 for every percentage point below the mark, plus $2,000 per piece of equipment that it doesn't accept.

One other thing to note, because this is something that the defendants are really worried about. At this time, the CEA and ITI say they aren't planning any other suits against the 19 states that have established various technology recycling laws. "This is not about challenging the underlying tenets of producer responsibility," says Brugge.

Incidentally, I ran a little poll in my last entry about this matter, asking the question "What do you think of this whole legal mess?" The large majority of respondents (59 percent) picked this choice: "Manufacturers should definitely be responsible for recycling and takeback." I'm going to run a similar poll, again, but I'm also going to include an option that represents a combination of responsibility. We'll see what folks have to say.

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