New York City is just days away from implementing a law requiring electronics recycling, calling on manufacturers to take back and recycle used electronics as well as mandating a pick-up program for any electronics over 15 pounds. Consumers could also get a hefty $100 fee for throwing electronics in the trash.
In a city whose recycling record could stand some pointers from its west coast counterparts (Portland; Seattle; San Francisco), the proposed electronics recycling law is one many environmentalists and electronics users welcome as long overdue. But the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council are trying to block the new legislation with a lawsuit, arguing the law's stipulations are too stringent. Among other complaints, they believe it would unfairly require companies to take responsibility for products they did not manufacture or sell.
But with New Yorkers buying upwards of 90,000 tons of electronics each year, it is difficult to understand the case of electronics manufacturers who make money without responsibility for their customers' environmental health.
Last week I attended a free volunteer training on recycling at the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC). About 15 people hailing from all five boroughs gathered around a table in a dingy office on Chambers Street, drinking natural sodas and debating which items are recyclable and which are destined for the trash. The group of 15, all of whom were diligent recyclers, could only come to agreement on the most obvious of items like the newspapers and Poland Spring bottles. Surely New York City can start doing a better job of simplifying its recycling rules, as well as expanding its service to include more items. Several cities on the west coast collect compost at the curb, as well as number 5 plastics and number ones and twos that are not shaped like bottles and jugs. We know it's possible, so why can't New York do it too?
In light of this eye-opening recycling meeting, news that industry groups wish to block legislation requiring electronics recycling seems horribly backward. Many manufacturers in New York City provide voluntary take back programs, but none so far is mandated. The onus is largely on the eco-minded consumer to schlep her heavy items on a train or car for recycling. For those New Yorkers with limited time (most of us) and minimal eco-consciousness (many of us), a law and a fine will compel them to participate, and hopefully catch the recycling "bug" in the process. It feels good to be good to the planet!
Meanwhile, non-profit and volunteer organizations have been organizing electronics recycling events around the city. But when I dropped off bags of cords and old cell phones at an event in Central Park last spring, I noticed all the piles of electronics were bound together with double and triple layers of plastic wrap. So after we get a handle on the recycling, the next step will be cutting back on that extra plastic.