E-Waste Tussle

Recycling Legislation has Elicited a range of emotions from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in recent months. In January, he happily put his John Hancock on a bill that establishes a plastic bag recycling program. However, in February, when the City Council sent him legislation that would create a mandatory electronic waste (e-waste) program, Bloomberg wasn't in nearly as good a mood.

The bill, which was approved by council members by a resounding 47-3 vote, would fine residents $100 for throwing away such items as televisions and computers, and would require electronics manufacturers to collect e-waste for recycling. By 2012, for instance, a manufacturer would have to collect an amount equaling at least 25 percent of the average tonnage it sold in the city in the preceding three years. By 2018, the minimum percentage would rise to 65 percent. Manufacturers failing to meet the mandated rates would be fined $50,000 for each percentage point that they fall short.

A spokesman for Bloomberg told Waste Age that the mayor, who supports e-waste recycling in general, believes that the minimum recycling percentages are arbitrary and that the bill holds manufacturers responsible for something they cannot control: whether or not residents recycle their e-waste. Bloomberg says that he will veto the legislation, and he also claims that he will not enforce the law if the City Council overrides his rejection — which it appears to have the votes to do.

[For more on the legislation, see “Make It, Take It,” p. 6.]

With the increasing amount of e-waste — the San Francisco-based Computer TakeBack Campaign estimates that it comprises the fastest-growing part of the nation's waste stream — it's important that states and local governments set up systems to recycle and reuse as much of the material as possible. Ten states have adopted mandatory e-waste recycling programs. New York would apparently be the first city to do so. An effective program in the Big Apple would set a powerful example for other jurisdictions to follow.

Here's hoping that Bloomberg and the City Council find a way to resolve their impasse.

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The author is the editor of Waste Age