Breyer And The Empty Printer Cartridge

Justice Stephen Breyer shared a dirty secret with the nation today: he doesn’t recycle his old printer cartridges. He also alleged that millions of his fellow Americans also fail to “put it in the right garbage can,” as he put it. Breyer also referred to himself as a “particularly bad customer” for failing to follow the directions on how to dispose of cartridges as outlined by manufacturers like Hewlett Packard.

Okay, so it was a hypothetical argument he was making in an oral argument in an environmental case this morning, but maybe there’s a grain of truth to it too. Who knows?

The case is a dispute over how much companies have to pay for cleaning up a Superfund site if they had a marginal role in causing the pollution. Breyer’s hypothetical came up when he was discussing with the government’s lawyer whether Shell Oil Co. should have to pay for chemical spills that occurred when it was delivering chemicals to the site near Bakersfield, Calif. More specifically, Shell had directed exactly how the chemicals should be handled during the delivery and storage process. So, Breyer suggested, isn’t Shell’s role similar to that of Hewlett Packard when it distributes its ink cartridges?

“How does that differ from you using your printer? There’s an ink cartridge and you replace them after a while, and mine has a little thing attached that says don’t put it in your ordinary garbage bin because it’s dangerous or whatever it is, put in it in this envelope and do something,” Breyer explained. “Now I’m sure that HP makes those and knows that several million people won’t do it. They will throw it in the garbage bin.”

In response, the government lawyer, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, avoided getting into his own ink cartridge disposal habits.

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