NEW YORK -- The state of New York kicked off the nation's most aggressive electronic waste recycling program today.
The Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act requires manufacturers of televisions, computers, cellphones, printers, DVD players and other common consumer electronics to collect and recycle or safely dispose of their products.
Companies that fail to comply with the law face a sliding scale of penalties based on how close they come to achieving state targets and how many earlier violations they have made. The maximum fine manufacturers face is $5,000 per violation.
The program's goal is to keep toxic heavy metals and other contaminants in electronics out of landfills and trash-burning power plants.
Environmental groups who pressed lawmakers in Albany to pass the measure last summer called the new law the most far-reaching electronics-recycling measure in the nation.
"It's exciting that today is the first day that they'll be having those programs up and running for free," said Bobbi Chase Wilding, organizing director at the Albany nonprofit Clean New York. "That's definitely a huge improvement for the state."
Under the new law, electronics manufacturers must establish a "convenient" e-waste collection system at no charge to individuals, schools and government offices. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees and nonprofits with fewer than 75 workers are also entitled to free e-waste collection. Manufacturers are allowed to charge fees to larger companies and nonprofit organizations.
Among the collection methods: mail-back programs for smaller products, neighborhood collection points and take-back programs at stores. Manufacturers are also required to accept old equipment made by a competitor if a customer is purchasing a new item from them.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will oversee compliance with the law.
Collection systems must be distributed throughout the state, covering urban and rural areas equally. Similar programs in other states often only cover urban centers.
The law also gradually phases in an outright ban on disposals of any electronic product in landfills or incinerators by any group or individual. Starting today, businesses, manufacturers and retailers are required to send used electronics to approved collection points. The ban will be extended to individual consumers and households on Jan. 1, 2015.
An earlier push by New York City to establish the nation's first municipal electronic waste recycling system was blocked by a federal court after electronics manufacturers mounted a legal challenge.
Equipment makers complained that that system would have required door-to-door pickup, potentially burdening the industry with hundreds of millions of dollars a year to service the city's 8.4 million residents.
Wilding said she is eager to see how manufacturers approach the collection system. The law also requires the industry to set up an advertising campaign to alert New Yorkers about recycling programs.
"My understanding is it's likely for companies to use different techniques in different areas," she said. "It would be interesting to see what approach they take in New York City, for example, where there's certainly challenges for individuals to move heavy televisions, for example, to collection points."
The nonprofit Electronics Take-Back Coalition, which lists several e-waste advocacy groups as members, says that there are now 24 separate state mandated e-waste recycling programs in effect, including New York's. Bills to set up new programs are pending in Massachusetts, Colorado, Utah and Nebraska.
In the past, industry groups, including the Consumer Electronics Association and others, have lobbied Congress to establish a nationwide e-waste standard, freeing companies from having to pay to comply with more than two dozen different state systems, each slightly different from the other. But thus far the groups say lawmakers have shown little interest in pursuing the issue or negating state laws.