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