Tuesday, February 19, 2008

E-Waste Recycling Doesn't Compute for Mayor Mike

As we'ver been commentating, the mayor is gearing up for a fight over the just passed City Council E-waste bill. As the NY Times City Room blog reported on Friday, the mayor feels it is unwarranted to ask manufacturers to be responsible for the failure of their customers to recycle. Bloomberg feels so strongly here that, much as he did with the Quinn-sponsored health care security bill, he is threatening to not enforce the law: “We will not enforce it,” he said. “And we don’t have to enforce it because it violates a whole bunch of federal laws on interstate commerce.”

The Times goes on to point out that the mayoral threat mimics the actions of the Bush administaration: "The threat evokes the much-debated use of so-called “signing statements” by the Bush administration. In a 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning series, Charlie Savage of The Boston Globe showed how the president has used hundreds of these statements to disobey laws passed by Congress on issues ranging from military rules and regulations to affirmative action."

The mayor's statements drew this response from Bill DeBlasio, the lead sponsor of the measure: “The Council is the legislative body of the city and under the charter it’s our job to pass legislation that will improve the lives of people in the city,” he said. Mr. DeBlasio added: “I have not heard any substantive disagreement on the on the need to create electronic recycling. I can tell you for a fact that they were not doing anything to create it and this legislation is the only reason the discussion began.”

What's strange with all of this is how the mayor zealously defends the rights and perogatives of electronics manufacturers, so much so that it would seem that he's got a dog in the hunt: "...The trouble with this law that the City Council passed is that you hold the manufacturers responsible for the public to recycle and the manufacturers can’t do that. They don’t sell directly to the public in many cases, they sell to wholesalers, and the wholesalers, you’re not holding them responsible, but also it’s the individual’s responsibility.”

Yes, it's a complex system of manufacturing, distribution and retailing; just like it is for beer and soda under the bottle bill, and as it will be for the store-mandated recycling of plastic bags-a bill that the mayor signed with no expressed compunction. So what's up with this line-in-the-sand intransigence, as gleefully highlighted in yesterday's NY Post editorial? ( "We will not enforce it. And we don't have to enforce it because it violates a whole bunch of federal laws on interstate commerce.")

Which, of course, is a matter of interpretation; as the Gotham Gazette reports, one environmental group sees this differently: "Kate Sinding, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said several other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, have similar, producer responsible requirements, none of which have been found unconstitutional. Sinding said the council was prepared to do "whatever it takes" to ensure the legislation was implements, including taking up the issue in court."

All of these recycling activities are supposedly the "individual's responsibility," yet the mayor doesn't have any rachmones for the retailers who are made to bear the bulk of most of the burden in the plastic recycling. Why the differential concern? Someone in the press should examine this more closely.

The underlying premise of all of these recycling measures is that there's a social responsibility that all business must bear with their customers. To start to carp on the problems of the poor manufacturers, as if they bore no responsibility in these equations, is to beg the question of how to proportion responsibility; after all, the manufacturer makes the profits on the sale of items that the mayor admits causes problems for the environment: “Look, nobody’s more in favor of recycling, and the reason that we focus on electronic equipment is there’s a lot of very heavy metal chemicals in electronic components that if you just put in a garbage dump they don’t just go away with time the way paper would and some of the other things that get thrown away..."

So the mayor needs to set aside what begins to look like special pleading; and he needs, as the NY Daily News editorialized on Sunday and the NY Sun reports today, to bring the parties together so that the law can be better crafted to reflect his concerns. As the News says: "But there is much the two sides actually agree on in seeking a solution to the ever-increasing number of old computers, monitors, iPods, TV sets and other gear being dumped in the city." This must be done with the manufacturers at front and center in some capacity because they do bear responsibility for they ultimate disposal of their products.