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Sailer joins those opposed to e-waste lawsuit

An industry lawsuit filed against New York City's electronic waste disposal law could affect Minnesota's e-waste laws, fears Rep. Brita Sailer.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on July 24, argues that the New York City e-waste recycling law passed in April 2008 is unconstitutional. The city's law requires the electronics companies to collect and recycle old electronic products. Nineteen states have passed similar "producer take-back" laws, including Minnesota whose e-waste bill was signed into law in 2008.

"Even though this lawsuit was filed against the city of New York, it is a direct challenge Minnesota's recently passed take-back law," Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, who authored Minnesota's new e-waste law, said Friday.

"Our electronics recycling program has been very successful -- though, as with any new initiative, there have been some bumps along the way," she said. "It would be wrong for the courts to undermine our efforts to protect public health and the environment. And this recycling program is doing more than that; it's actually working to reduce the cost burden for disposal that consumers and taxpayers have been, until now, carrying alone."

Sailed joined with government officials from across the nation last week who called on the electronics industry to withdraw its lawsuit, describing it as a direct challenge to state and local government efforts to protect public health and the environment.

In a letter to the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council, which filed the lawsuit, state and local government representatives from 18 states expressed their continued support for state and local laws that give the electronics manufacturers responsibility for financing effective take-back services for all the products they are selling in those states.

"Electronic  waste is  the fastest  growing  part  of  the  waste stream,  but  it  poses  special  problems  for  local  solid  waste  management  programs," states the letter organized by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. "Electronic  products  contain  a  variety  of  materials  that  are  recoverable  and  recyclable,  but  some  of  the  materials  are  potentially  hazardous  if  not  managed  properly.  Increasingly,  local  governments  are  expected  to  spend  more  and  more  of  our  limited  taxpayer/ ratepayer  dollars  managing  this  growing  problem."

The letter notes that "Many  electronics manufacturers either  do  not  offer  national  take-back  programs  or  they  operate  voluntary  programs  that  do  not  result  in  significant  recycling  volumes.  To  fill  this  gap,  states  and  local  governments  have  adopted  producer  take-back  laws  in  18  states  and  New  York  City.   Some  of  these  programs  are  already  operational  and  are  generating  significant  recycling  volumes -- far  higher  rates  than  voluntary  programs.  In  these  states,  the  manufacturers  are  already  running  effective  programs."

Minnesota signers of the letter include Sailer and Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, authors of Minnesota's e-waste law; Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt; and, Association of Minnesota Counties President Jim McDonough.

"Passing an e-waste recycling law in Minnesota has been good for consumers, good for businesses, and good for our environment," Sailer said. "It has put more electronic waste where it should be, reducing the harmful effects of releasing damaging chemical byproducts into our environment contaminating soil and our water supply. For the sake of Minnesota consumers, and the future of our environment, we need to make every effort to ensure these recycling programs remain in place."

New York City's law calls for manufacturers to provide free, door-to-door electronics collection, which the lawsuit says will force hundreds of trucks onto city streets, needlessly increasing traffic congestion, air and noise pollution and carbon emissions. The cost of the program will approach $200 million annually, which will be passed onto consumers.

"Manufacturers recognize that they have a key role in providing recycling opportunities for consumers, and have recycled billions of pounds of electronics through voluntary programs," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA. "However, they do not have the only role. The responsibilities and costs for electronics recycling should be shared among all stakeholders, including city and state governments, retailers, recyclers and consumers."

But Sailer argues that producers play a greater role. She advocates a concept known as "Product Stewardship," which encourages companies that manufacture electronics to plan more effectively how those products will be disposed of.

"We need to start thinking long-term when we're building new electronics, and have responsible methods in place to dispose of these products effectively and affordably," said Sailer. "Electronics businesses need to share in that cost. Currently counties and cities -- and therefore taxpayers -- are getting stuck with the bill. But we can all save a lot of headaches and a lot of money if we take the initiative to work together and think ahead."

The public statement issued this week is not the only action taken recently to challenge the electronics industry's lawsuit. Last week, local governments from New York State, Oregon and California and an independent government association (Product Stewardship Institute) submitted an amicus brief to the court,

In it, they provide legal arguments challenging the industry claims in the lawsuit, and in support of New York City's right to enact the producer take-back law. Two states, Maine and Washington, have provided affidavits that were submitted as part of the New York City's defense. The Natural Resources Defense Council has also intervened in the case, in support of the city's law, and is now a party to the case.

The oral arguments in the New York City lawsuit are expected to begin in late December.