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E-waste recycling – are solutions near?

Electronic waste is the fastest-growing part of the municipal waste stream, but e-waste recycling lags. Various solutions have been proposed.

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Proposals similar to Thompson's have become law  at the city and state level around the country, indicating support for such measures among lawmakers. But in some cases, the electronics industry has resisted e-waste regulation.

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In 2008, New York City passed a law requiring electronics companies to establish door-to-door electronics collection programs for their products in the city, and to responsibly recycle them.

Already, 20 other states have passed similar laws — most recently, Wisconsin [pdf].  In October, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed an e-waste recycling bill into law.

But in July, the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council filed a lawsuit against New York City, calling the new e-waste recycling law "onerous," unconstitutional, and costly.

The plaintiffs estimated that the costs of a door-to-door collection program would run upward of $200 million annually. The trucks used to collect the old electronics would also increase traffic congestion and air pollution in the city.

Then, earlier this month, parties in favor of e-waste recycling laws — city and state governments from around the country — countered with an amicus brief [pdf] to the New York court where the lawsuit was filed. They supported New York City's e-waste recycling law and challenged the industry groups' claims.

In a letter [PDF] sent directly to the plaintiffs that urged them to drop the case, they wrote:

"... your actions are a direct challenge to state and local government efforts to protect public health and the environment. Governments can little afford to cover the recycling or disposal costs of each product brought to market.  In bringing forth this lawsuit, we believe the industry is not meeting its fiscal  responsibility and shifting it to taxpayers/ratepayers."

How it all plays out remains to be seen.

For more info, see a list of recyclers deemed responsible by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, and visit the Basel Action Network's website for more about where e-waste ends up.

Editor’s note: For articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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