Monday, May 30, 2005

E-Waste and EPR in NYC

Treehugger reports on New York City's attempt to pass an EPR law requiring electronics manufacturers to take back their discarded and broken products. Companies that fail to comply with this law would lose the right to sell their products in NYC.

I'm a huge fan of EPR laws. Currently, manufacturers shift the cost of disposal and pollution onto taxpayers. Under EPR, they bear the economic brunt of their own bad decisions. Therefore, they have a strong financual incentive to reuse, recycle, and redesign their products.

This bill has already been called "onerous" by an industry insider, but it's nothing of the sort. It would require manufacturers to take back 30 percent of their devices by 2010, or alternatively, to offset the social costs of their pollution by donating used devices to schools and nonprofit groups. Thirty percent is nothing, and I don't believe in "mitigating" the noxious effects of heavy-metal leachates by donating Xboxes to public schools.

Which doesn't mean I'm against this law...far from it! I'm just noting how ridiculous it is that municipalities must negotiate with the makers of luxury items over how much of their toxic mess they're obliged to clean up. EPR laws make perfect sense, most of them are far less stringent than they should be, and no one should listen to the whining of manufacturers who are, in essence, refusing to meet the minimum standards of good citizenship.

4 comments:

Wayne said...

It's an extremely sensible philosphy and actually worthy of Hopeful Friday. You've written before about the absurdity of cost-benefit (hearken back to the Reagan Years) that didn't include environmental impact (hearken back to the Reagan Years) and still doesn't. I'm hopeful that the consideration of financial impact on the environment will one day be a necessary element in calculating such things.

After six years my cheap casio watch finally ran out of power. I opened it up, ready to exchange the battery. The battery costs more than a new watch. "Throw it away."

I wonder if the insane ready availability of disposable cell phones, watches, batteries, and other items used in copious quantities and blithely manufactured just to be thrown away would be curtailed by that kind of philosophy?

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Phila said...

Wayne,

Yeah, that kind of waste absolutely would be curtailed. If you look at European EPR laws, they apply to pretty much everything, right down to packaging. Simply put, you're responsible for the products you make...amazing concept, huh?

Of course, the EU alone is a bigger market than the US, so we're really going to have to fall in line sooner or later, regardless of our domestic laws. Smart companies are positioning themselves to take advantage of the inevitable. Stupid ones are wasting money on PR and lobbying that could go to redesign. Personally, I think a lot of these businesses just aren't fit to survive, to use the ever-popular Social Darwinist viewpoint. They're not smart, innovative, or imaginative enough to compete in a changing world, so all their efforts go to turning back the clock.

Dell, on the other hand, sees the writing on the wall: they have a take-back program for their own computers, and they'll take any other manufacturer's computer for a ten-dollar fee. Pretty shrewd, IMO.

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