Thursday, February 14, 2008

E-Gad: Electronic Recycling!

Sometimes the marvelous inconsistency of the City Council really bemuses us. In the case of the just passed electronics recycling bill, the council crafted regulations that hold manufacturers responsible for the collection of the products they sell in the city. As the NY Times reports this morning: "Under New York’s proposed law, manufacturers would start collecting electronics for recycling in 2009. Starting in 2010, city residents could be fined $100 if they threw out a piece of electronic equipment. In 2012, manufacturers would have to collect enough discarded electronic equipment to equal 25 percent of the average weight of the goods they sold in the city during the previous three years."

Now that's pretty tough; but let's recall the plastic bag recycling bill that the council passed last year. As we said at the time: ""A lobbyist for the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, a coalition of small businesses, Richard Lipsky, said yesterday that the bill remained flawed and misappropriates the penalties. "If, in fact, these bags are harmful to the environment, then the people who manufacture and sell them should have some obligation to pay for the recycling process," Mr. Lipsky said. "There is no such obligation in this bill."

What a stark difference in the current E-rececling bill. Here's the response from the mayor's office in the NY Post this morning: "Administration officials are opposed to the mandatory recycling targets. Mayoral spokesman John Gallagher said "it penalizes the wrong people - the manufacturers who can't control whether customers recycle or not."

Gallagher goes on to tell the NY Sun: ""It's unfortunate that the Council seems more interested in pandering to special interests and starting a legal battle instead of crafting real legislation that will address this important issue," a mayoral spokesman, John Gallagher, said yesterday in a statement. He said the legislation places an unfair financial burden on manufacturers that would cost the city jobs." Well, there's always a first for everything, and its good to see the mayor standing up for business-we'd just like to see any indication of support for the NYC retailers that the administration routinely ignores.

That being said, the current legislation is going to present some real challenges to electronics retailers and manufacturers: "For example, if Hewlett-Packard or Gateway sold an average of 1,000 tons of computers, monitors and other equipment over three years, it would be required to take back 250 tons of products a year for recycling. In 2015, the minimum amount collected for recycling would have to increase to 45 percent and would top out at 65 percent in 2018. Manufacturers would be fined $50,000 for each percentage point they fall below those standards."

But, as we found out from years working with beer and soda folks in developing compliance with the bottle law, the distribution and retailing networks are extremely complex; usually way beyond the understanding of the folks who write these laws. Which means that a great deal of thought is going to be needed in order for these electonics firms to become compliant with the law.

Here's the industry response to yesterday's council action: "Parker E. Brugge, environmental counsel to the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents 2,200 producers and retailers, said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of a manufacturer’s sales in the city. “Manufacturers typically sell to large distributors, and once they sell to them, they don’t know where those products end up,” Mr. Brugge said."

So the gauntlet has been laid down for the industry, and the methodologies of compliance are sure to be varied: "If the new measure becomes law, the city’s voluntary electronics collection and recycling programs would be replaced by a variety of programs designed and run by Sony, Dell and other electronics manufacturers. Those efforts could include curbside pickups, returns by mail and in stores, and neighborhood collections. Manufacturers could pick the type of recycling program they preferred, said Councilman Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn, who, with Councilman Michael E. McMahon of Staten Island, was a prime sponsor of the bill. The companies would have to take back enough pieces of equipment to meet mandatory tonnage standards or face fines."

Gentlemen, start your hard drives!