A single cell phone tossed into a garbage bin may seem inconsequential compared to the bundled newspapers that you conscientiously tie up every month for recycling, but that phone and its battery will never biodegrade, and contain toxins that are harmful to the environment. Sanitation pick ups make it easy for New Yorkers to join the recycling movement, which is not just a choice now, but law. But New Yorkers are burdened with going the extra distance when it comes to recycling electronics, from air-conditioners and desktop computers to old cell phones and e-readers.
But that is changing.
In 2010, New York State joined the ranks of 23 other states across the country in requiring manufacturers of electronics to provide an easy way for consumers to recycle unwanted, old or broken e-waste, free of charge. The Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act went into affect in April, 2011. In 2015, it was be against the law to throw some electronic equipment into the trash.
A preliminary report released late last month by the Product Stewardship Institute, a nonprofit that works with government agencies to reduce the environmental impacts of consumer products, found that while advances in e-waste recycling have been made in New York State, New York City lags behind its upstate neighbors.
Citing obstacles such as high transportation costs and the fact that many New Yorkers do not have cars and cannot easily cart unwanted items to drop-off locations, the report concludes that much work needs to be done to facilitate e-recycling in New York City.
“Because the area represents more than 40 percent of the state’s population, it will be important for manufacturers and recycling companies, as well as state and local government, to identify opportunities to expand the collection infrastructure in the city,” the report reads.
To process electronic waste, manufacturers as well as the city’s Department of Sanitation have contracted Sims Recycling Solutions, a division of Sims Metal Management, which also processes standard recycling (glass, metal, plastic) for the city. Steve Skurnac, president of Sims Recycling Solutions, said the report was spot-on in its analysis of why it is difficult to recycle electronics here.
“The idea that I’m going to lug a TV and take it somewhere and drop it off without a car? It’s a daunting task,” he said. Skurnac said Sims has had many discussions with the city about e-waste strategies, but since the law is new, he said, “It’s a learning curve for everybody.”
Organizations like the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Goodwill Industries and businesses like Best Buy sponsor e-recycling events in conjunction with electronics manufacturers, but the city is shouldering some of the responsibility. For the first time since the recycling law went into effect, the Department of Sanitation is hosting five upcoming drop-off events.
NYC SAFE Disposal Events (solvents, automotive, flammables, electronics) are being held this spring, one in each borough.
Sunday, April 22, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Union Square North Plaza, 17th Street and Park Avenue, Manhattan
Saturday, April 28, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: St. John’s University Alumni Hall Parking Lot, Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike, Queens
Sunday, May 6, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Prospect Park, Park Circle, Parkside Avenue and Prospect Park SW, Brooklyn
Saturday, May 12, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Lehman College South Lot, Goulden Avenue, south of Bedford Park Boulevard West, Bronx
Saturday, May 19, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Staten Island Mall Parking Lot F, 2655 Richmond Avenue, Staten Island
Skurnac says the single day events are “helpful, but not a long term solution.”
“It doesn’t get to the point of easy drop-off,” he said. “The same issues arise. There’s not a lot of space [to transport the waste] and it’s incredibly expensive [to truck it out].”
So how can New York City do better?
To start, Skurnac says more businesses and charitable organizations could start accepting electronics, and the city could host more collection events. It’s also about educating the public.
“It takes awareness to know it’s an option,” he said.
The Department of Sanitation, in a statement, said they are assisting in the effort.
“Even though the New York State Product Stewardship Law for electronics places the responsibility for proper disposal of electronic products solely on electronic manufactures, Sanitation is always seeking ways to work with electronic manufacturers to improve the capture of more electronics and making it more convenient for residents to dispose of these items.”
Manufacturers must register with the Department of Environmental Conservation, and submit a report annually.
Sims operates in 14 cities across the country, but none are more complicated to recycle in than New York City.
“You face the same challenges, but not on the same scale,” said Skurnac.