Tech Recycling Plan: Flawed

The New York Times writes about a new recycling law being discussed in New York City – one targeted at electronic devices, primarily – or so it appears – computer manufacturers. Unfortunately, the plan has several major flaws:

Firstly, the plan places the brunt of the recycling burden on manufacturers – not merchants. It’s obvious why this is the case, but the benchmarks appear, at least to me, to be completely unenforceable: It’s easy enough for Dell, IBM, or SUN to figure out how many computers each shipped directly to a New York City address, of course – but were they all actually sold in NYC? Of the thousands of Macs sold at Apple stores in the city every year – something easy enough for Apple to keep track of – how many will be sold to out-of-city residents? Will those count against the company’s recycling burden? And what about companies in NYC, who buy computers through out-of-state value-added resellers? How are you going to track that?

Second of all, let’s be honest, here; we’re talking about New Yorkers, who are frankly the most cantankerous people in North America. I can tell you exactly what this mandatory recycling program with attendant fine for violation is going to produce – because it’s something you already see, today, in places with similar rules about recycling electronic goods (like here in Minnesota, where you generally have to pay for your “hazardous” electronics to be disposed of): piles of junked computers, monitors, televisions, stereos, and other electronic devices in every vacant lot, abandoned building, and out-of-the-way park. (There’s someone who keeps burning old computers and office electronics in a fire pit in local park. Environmentally horrible, but it does make for an interesting way to pass a few minutes on a sunny afternoon. “Hmmn, that looks like a roller axle from a fax machine. No, look at all the broken glass; might have been a flatbed scanner…”)

I understand the concern, but I think it’s a decade or two too late. Nearly every electronic device manufactured right now is ROHS compliant, thanks to the European Union approaching things from the logical end – i.e. forbidding the import, manufacture, or sale of items containing hazardous material in the first place. By the time the proposed law in New York City could come into full force – several years from now – few if any of the disposable electronics on the market are going to contain hazardous materials. Sure, there will still be old Pentium-I desktops showing up in vacant lots, but in far fewer numbers than, say, dead Tenth-Generation iPods…

Published in: 'D' for 'Dumb', Geekiness, General | on February 14th, 2008| Comments Off on Tech Recycling Plan: Flawed

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