Time for New York State to Get Serious About E-Waste

Antoine M Thompson

August 13, 2009


Cell phones, computers, I-pods, laptops, printers, mp3 players, LCD TV’s – the marketplace is full of sleek electronic devices that give us quick access to information, entertain us, and keep us in touch with our loved ones and our world. The benefits of these new technologies are numerous, including providing my constituents with greater access to important resources. But if their use is going to be sustainable, there are certain problems that need to be solved sooner rather than later.

The sale of electronic devices in the U.S. grew from 61 million units in 1987 to more than 426 million units in 2007. This growth in sales, coupled with rapid technology development that leads to more immediate obsolescence, has facilitated a dramatic growth of the nation's electronics waste stream. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the amount of electronic waste or "e-waste" entering the waste stream almost doubled between 1999 and 2007, from 7.7 to 14.9 pounds per person per year. Unfortunately, the EPA estimates that only 13.6% of e-waste was recycled in 2007.

Increased e-waste is a growing problem for our local governments as taxpayers are saddled with the disposal costs. The presence of certain hazardous materials like lead, cadmium, and mercury makes proper management of e-waste essential to protecting public health and the environment. For example, televisions and computer monitors with glass screens (CRTs) often contain lead, while those with flat panel screens can contain mercury. Both lead and mercury are dangerous neurotoxins that are particularly hazardous to the developing nervous systems of infants and children.

In the absence of a comprehensive State-wide recycling law, consumers are left with an ineffective patch-work of local collection options and voluntary programs sponsored by a few manufacturers.

I have been working with environmentalists, electronics industry representatives, Governor Paterson, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and my colleagues in the Senate and Assembly to come up with a workable solution to this problem. It hasn’t been easy. In a better world, products would be made to last, would be non-toxic and completely recyclable. Furthermore, the disposal costs would be built into the cost of the product before they entered the marketplace. Jobs would be created in the recycling process and limited landfill capacity would be saved. In the real world, of course, things are far more difficult, but my proposal, S6089 – the electronic equipment recycling and reuse act (Chapter Amendment), is an attempt to start us down this road.

For more information about E-Waste, please call my office at (716) 854-8705. Senator Antoine M. Thompson is Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee. He represents parts of Erie and Niagara Counties.