The New York City Council passed groundbreaking legislation (Intro. 104-A) today that would institute a city-wide electronics recycling program for the 25,000 tons of discarded electronics the City collects annually, making it the first major municipality in the nation to tackle the rising tide of discarded electronics in the waste stream.
“Every time you turn around there’s a new iPod or iPhone, a new slimmer laptop or a bigger TV enticing you to purchase it,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in the press release. “With the speed at which we upgrade our gadgets these days, it’s no wonder that electronics are the fastest-growing part of our waste stream. But now, with the City’s adoption of a 21st-century recycling measure, New York has found a solution that will undoubtedly become the model for other jurisdictions around the nation.”
The law, sponsored by 47 council members, requires computer, TV and MP3 manufacturers to take responsibility for the collection of their own electronic products when New Yorkers want to dispose of them. The measure will save the city money and give manufacturers the incentive to design less toxic and easier-to-recycle products. The city’s Department of Sanitation will have to approve each manufacturer’s collection plan, which could include curbside collection, drop-off events or mail-in programs.
“New Yorkers now have a clear, simple answer to the question: ‘What do I do with my old iPod, TV, or computer?’” said Sinding. “And, finally, all those old electronic products collecting dust in our homes can be disposed of properly, affording us a little extra closet space as well.”
Old electronics account for about 40 percent of the lead found in municipal landfills as well as mercury, cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals in landfills and municipal incinerators. Currently, much of New York City’s electronic waste is burned in the Newark incinerator, polluting the air in New York and New Jersey with heavy metals.
“We now have a smarter way to deal with old electronics that doesn’t include burning them or burying them in landfills,” said Sinding. “And it is a system that both taxpayers and business can get behind. We consumers can now get rid of our electronics in an environmentally responsible way and companies can now recover and reuse valuable materials instead tossing them aside in ways that will come back to haunt us. Speaker Quinn, chief sponsor Bill de Blasio and Sanitation Committee chair Michael McMahon, along with the rest of the bill’s sponsors, deserve a great deal of credit for passing this measure, which Mayor Bloomberg should quickly sign into law.”
The new measure also received broad support from major corporations, such as Apple and GE, and Tekserve, one of New York City’s largest computer retailers. Nearly two dozen environmental groups also supported the measure, including the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and the Lower East Side Ecology Center.
The law requires companies to begin collecting old equipment in July 2009. Starting in July 2010, the Department of Sanitation will no longer accept electronic products covered in the bill for collection and can fine manufacturers if they fail to submit approvable plans and/or fail to meet specific performance standards in implementing them. By 2012, manufacturers must take back at least 25 percent (by weight) of their current sales for recycling or reuse; by 2015 they must collect 45 percent, and by 2018, manufacturers must collect at least 65 percent of their current sales.