Ah, Christmastime in New York City — tricked-out window displays on Fifth Avenue, ice skating and Norway-spruce gazing at Rockefeller Center, wild-eyed hordes in Herald Square and trashed televisions as far as the eye can see.

As the high season of e-waste approaches and New Yorkers (and everyone else, for that matter) begin to phase out their obsolete and unwanted electronics and replace them with the newest/fastest/flashiest/most enviable models, city sidewalks across the five boroughs are transformed into veritable graveyards for cast-off gadgets and gizmos. What’s not scavenged or stripped of its parts is hauled off and landfilled with the regular trash. During the days following Christmas, the NYC streetscape is particularly glum — all dead trees, cathode-ray tube TVs and brown mounds of snow.

Officials, however, are hoping that things play out a bit differently this year thanks to a new law that prohibits New Yorkers living in the five boroughs and the entire state from tossing out electronics with regular household garbage. Those who violate the e-waste disposal rules that kick in on Jan. 1 could face fines up to $100 for each offense. Tickets won’t start being issued until March — a three-month grace period allows New York homeowners and landlords to familiarize themselves with the new guidelines.

So what can't New Yorkers put out for curbside trash pickup if they don’t have plans to donate, resell or otherwise keep the items in circulation?

Personal computers (including laptops, tablets and e-readers), printers, TVs, DVD players, cable boxes and gaming consoles are all covered under the guidelines. Affixed cords and cables are also included in the list as are computer accessories such as keyboards and mice. Those who sheepishly try to dispose of their fax machines and dust-collecting VCRs by putting them at the curb will no longer be allowed to do so come New Year's Day. A complete list of electronics that New Yorkers cannot leave out for curbside trash pickup can be found on the NYCWasteLess website.

Instead, New Yorkers will be required to properly dispose of their unwanted electronics through dedicated drop-off areas at Goodwill, the Salvation Army or at retailers such as Best Buy or Staples (no TVs). NYC residents can also make the trek out to the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse in Brooklyn. Community e-waste recycling events and mail-back programs are additional options. Still-functioning items, of course, can be hawked on websites like Craigslist or Freecycle.

In the city, apartment buildings with 10 or more units have the luxury of enrolling in a free electronics recycling pickup program called e-cycleNYC.

The goal of the new statewide law, of course, is to help boost recycling rates and put a significant dent in the number of electronics that make their way to landfills. Once trashed, many gadgets and gizmos are considered hazardous waste due to the presence of toxic substances such as mercury and lead that can harm wildlife and leach toxins into the ground and pollute groundwater.

New York’s e-waste ban is a much-welcomed one. However, it's not without issues, particularly in New York City where the curbside disposal of outmoded electronics and small appliances is a time-honored tradition in which many residents assume that if an item of any sort of value is placed at the curb, it will magically disappear within a matter of minutes. Poof! It's gone! If the item in question isn't plucked from the curb by an eagle-eyed scavenger, sanitation workers will eventually do the deed and remove the item without issue.

And unlike those living in areas where a cast-off television set can be stashed in a garage or basement or easily dropped off for donation or recycling, many space-strapped, public transit-dependent New York City residents, even those who dutifully dispose of their old textiles and light bulbs in an environmentally responsible manner, have a challenge ahead of them. After all, hopping on the train with a small bag of rechargeable batteries or kitchen scraps is a lot different than hopping on the train with a 32-inch TV. 

Here’s hoping that New Yorkers across the state rise to the challenge even though the soon-to-commence law comes as a surprise of many, myself included. I didn’t know about the ban until I received a helpful bit of literature in the mail late last week.

“It does seem to have caught folks by surprise. I’ve been asked a lot more about snow than e-waste,” New York City Sanitation Commission Kathryn Garcia tells NY1 of the new law, explaining that trashed electronic equipment “now makes up the largest and fastest growing component of the hazardous materials entering the waste stream.”

"Everyone is getting new TVs and everything and they are not going to start, they are not gonna understand that this is happening on the first and they are going to start putting everything out to the curb,” laments Councilman Steven Matteo of Staten Island.

Matteo does have a point. This is why the city is launching a belated (the law, the NY State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act, was passed in 2010 — the last five years were meant as a “get ready” period) educational campaign so that residents can familiarize themselves with the various disposal options for electronics that don't involve the household trash. In addition to the aforementioned mailings, informative PSAs will air on local TV channels and in taxis to help get residents up to speed.

Small household appliances including microwaves, toaster ovens, vacuums, humidifiers, etc. are not covered under the law. Cellphones are subject to different recycling guidelines as are certain light bulbs and rechargeable batteries.

New Yorkers: any thoughts on the ban, particularly with the holidays just around the corner? Do you recycle some electronics but put other items (perhaps the big/hard-to-transport stuff?) that aren't fit for donating in the trash?

Via [Gothamist], [NY1]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.