Good news for extended producer responsibility (EPR) in the United States! (i.e., manufacturer responsibility for end-of-life collection and recycling of unwanted consumer products).
Yesterday, a large consortium of electronics companies formally withdrew their lawsuit challenging New York City’s EPR e-waste recycling law (which I testified in support of in 2006).
While a recently passed New York state e-waste recycling law that preempts the NYC regulation was seen as the primary reason for this action, the real world impact is that this removes a threat to EPR laws around the nation – including Maine’s 6 EPR laws on the books. Our laws currently cover 10 different product categories ranging from mercury-containing light bulbs and thermostats to cell phones, TVs, computers and printers. In almost every instance, Maine was the first state in the nation to pass these laws, paving the way for more states to follow. As I write this, more than 20 states and over half the nation’s population are now served by e-waste recycling legislation modeled after Maine’s first-in the-nation law.
With the newly enacted EPR framework legislation in place, Maine is likely to continue to lead the nation toward the greater recycling of more and more products in the waste stream.
But all this progress could have been stopped dead in its tracks if this lawsuit had gained steam. From NRDC’s Kate Sinding’s blog post:
“the suit was so broadly framed that it put in jeopardy any law based on the notion that the manufacturers of consumer products should bear the financial responsibility for their disposition at end-of-life.”
In order to help apply political pressure, we worked to generate letters from concerned legislators and officials to the companies asking them to withdraw their lawsuit. And our national partners worked tirelessly to organize, apply media pressure and engage in tough negotiations with the manufacturers.
Through this process there were many lessons learned. Back to Kate Sinding…
“Not that everything about the lawsuit was regrettable. One of the silver linings was the way in which it brought the plaintiff manufacturers and the city together to develop workable solutions to the very real practical obstacles to collection in New York City. Because of its low rates of car ownership and dense living arrangements, how collection might best be implemented in the city poses serious challenges. Through settlement negotiations, the parties made significant progress toward addressing those challenges and devising viable collection alternatives that should both serve New York City residents and accommodate the business needs of the manufacturers charged under the law with taking back their products. We hope (and have every reason to believe) that these good discussions will continue, as the need for meaningful e-waste collection opportunities in NYC will persist, albeit now under the terms of the state law (which becomes effective next April).
All sides deserve congratulations for the hard work and good faith they brought to the settlement table – elements that augur well for New York State’s nascent e-waste program.”
As a final note, this was not a clear case of manufacturers opposing an EPR law because they didn’t want to pay to recycle their own products. Many electronics manufacturers – including most of the household names like Dell, HP, Sony and Apple – now support EPR legislation for electronics. This was largely the case of making mountains out of molehills. The manufacturers primarily had problems with the definition of “convenient collection.” From that point, EPR foes in the electronics industry and elsewhere saw it as an opportunity to try and make a larger case against the Constitutionality of EPR laws in the first place.
Fortunately, we’ve already won that fight to date. In 2004, NRCM helped successfully defend Maine’s mercury auto-switch law against the auto manufacturers in federal court. This helped establish the legal precedent allowing states to hold manufacturers responsible for the safe collection and recycling of unwanted consumer products. And yesterday’s news is one more step in the right direction. This shift is what is necessary to turn what will be formerly known as “trash” into the raw materials of the next generation of products, and to make landfills and waste incinerators obsolete.
–Matt Prindiville, NRCM Clean Production Project Director
Robert Coghill says
Washington state has a very active policy on disposal of electronics. I have personally used their disposal stations about 10 times and I applaud all states that implement these policies.
Vintage Pens says
The Dell Smartphone Guy says
This is a great issue to bring to the public eye. I think most people still think of recycling as paper, plastic, and aluminum cans. They don’t think of their electronics and such. Their is a good post about recycling cell phones at http://dellandroidsmartphones.com/2010/07/25/going-green-with-your-cell-phone/. It is a great idea to start recycling or trading your old stuff. Thanks for posting about this.
Finally we are doing something about all of these electronic devices we’ve been consuming for years. I have a bunch of old cell phones that I’ve never thrown away because it just didn’t seem smart to throw something with lithium in it in the garbage.
Vince Williams says
Manufacturers should have to take some responsibility for the back end of their product life cycle. They love making these things and selling them, so they should take a part in disposing of them properly.
Great post I agree that manufacturing should be held accountable for their own waste. Recycling electronics is another great idea.
Jeff, Clean Energy
Alex Crecca says
This is an outstanding article. It is true that the most commonly practiced act of recycling is paper, plastic, and aluminum cans. It is important to bring to the public eye that electronics and other goods are also recyclable. Thanks for bringing this to public attention!
There should also be more consumer education about what needs to be done (specifically) at the product’s end with regards to recycling. Many consumers are not aware of what needs to be done or if they are aware they often do not know how exactly and specifically to accomplish that…i.e. where e-recycling centers are at, where to take the used light bulbs, where to dispose of their dead batteries or what to do with their old cell phones etc….of course the information is out there if you search for it but it should be more readily available with no need to do research on it.
I wanted to comment on your newest post, but it was closed 🙁 So I decided to write here! Thank you for post! I had never heard of a no trash option before, that is super exciting! It would be great if there was a way to get that done nationwide and not just in Maine. Any information on this becoming a national policy?
This is one great post. Thank you for bringing this public issue to public attention. Let us all do our share to reduce, re-use and recycle. Manufacturers and consumers and the government must act responsibly on this. Applause to Washington state for implementing a policy on this big issue actively. Now let’s do our share, let’s start recycling or trading old, busted stuff around. Let’s start using recycled products at home and make it part of our daily life. For ladies, I would like to inspire and challenge you to consider using designer inspired recycle bags and add some to your fashion collection. This is one best way to show and inspire others as well to recycle, to become eco-conscious and fashionista at the same time. Other practical ways to help as individual, any one?