It's producer vs. consumer in pending suit over NYC's tech recycling law

New York City will soon find its tech recycling law under the legal microscope. Will this case determine the fate of state recycling programs all around the nation?
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Updating to clarify reference to direct collection....

The whole tech recycling debate over "producer responsibility" vs. sticking states and municipalities with the bill to get rid of unwanted TVs, computers and other gadgets will get a lot louder early in February when oral arguments begin in a suit filled against New York City by both the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council.

The suit was supposed to kick off next week on Jan. 19, but it has been delayed until Feb. 10, for reasons not related to the matter at hand, according to a whole bunch of people who have come out on the side of the defendants. Those folks held a mini-briefing earlier today to represent their side of what's going on. For the record, I haven't connected yet with the folks representing the industry viewpoint, although I am sure they will surface soon and I'm eager to hear their side.

In any event, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has joined New York City as a defendant in the case, which will guarantee some decent publicity as it runs its course.

On the surface level at least, the New York law is pretty simple. The legislation, passed in 2008, requires that manufacturers support convenient plans for collecting and recycling e-waste. The reason that there IS a New York City law in the first place is that they apparently are few other recourses in the state: maybe a dozen technology collection sites vs. maybe 220 in Washington state, which has a pretty thorough law in place. I wrote a little about the suit last fall, when it first surfaced publicly. What's at issue, according to NRDC senior attorney Kate Sinding is the notion that vendors should be responsible for direct collection of anything that weighs more than 15 pounds. Although direct collection isn't specifically addressed in the NYC law, the direct collection issue has emerged as a result of regulations created to implement the law created by the Sanitation Department.

Uh-uh. I'm thinking most televisions definitely fall into that category, especially those of the gargantuan sort. No wonder the tech industry has flipped out on this one.

What the NRDC, NYC and their supporters -- including the New York Product Stewardship Council, the California Product Stewardship Council, the Product Policy Institute and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition -- are worried about is that there will be an interim decision or preliminary injunction that throws electronics recycling and takeback laws in other states into question. They characterize this as a case of companies trying to avoid responsibility for developing realistic end-of-life strategies for products that could have a negative environmental products. An adverse decision could even affect recycling laws in general, not just those focused on technology, they suggest.

"This court case is not about NYC, really," says Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. "This is about states being able to create compelling and meaningful take-back programs. This suit isn't even really about e-waste. ... What's happening is a strategy by this industry to avoid producer takeback and avoid responsibility."

There are two sides to every lawsuit, of course. I'm waiting to hear the merits of the industry side. If you want to dig into documents about the case, visit this link.

Expect more coverage on this one.

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