Easing collection of recyclable batteries
Spent rechargeable batteries from electronic equipment are an inevitable byproduct of modern living, but their disposal is not as easy as throwing them in the wastebasket. Because the batteries contain toxic chemicals, such as lithium ion and nickel cadmium, they are not accepted at regular landfills. A growing number of states and cities are passing laws to promote battery collection and recycling. Others are setting up collection sites at public places so residents can deposit their used batteries conveniently.
In July, California became the first state to enact such legislation with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Act, which requires retailers that sell products with rechargeable batteries to collect used batteries from customers. The law makes it easier for residents to properly dispose of rechargeable batteries, says Karl Palmer, chief of the Regulatory and Program Development Division of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The law does not provide specific methods for enforcement, but, theoretically, the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board would have to work with the attorney general to pursue complaints of non-compliance. “There are some retailers who may not yet know about the law,” Palmer says. “We need to make sure we get some additional information out there.”
A similar ordinance took effect in New York City on Dec. 1. It also requires battery manufacturers to submit a battery management plan by June 1 to show how they will collect and recycle batteries that are returned to retailers. The law also applies to companies that sell rechargeable batteries by phone, catalog or Internet, but some small food stores that sell the batteries are exempt.
The California and New York laws are modeled on a program offered by the Atlanta-based Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp. (RBRC), a non-profit organization formed by members of the rechargeable battery industry to collect and recycle the batteries at no charge to participants. With more than 30,000 collection sites in the United States and Canada, the program collected 2.4 million pounds of batteries in 2006.
Funded by battery manufacturers through a licensing fee, RBRC ships the batteries to its recycling facility near Pittsburgh, where nickel in the batteries is extracted to make stainless steel, and the cadmium is saved to make new batteries. California retailers are not required to use RBRC, though many do. Others use similar programs, such as the Anaheim, Calif.-based Kinsbursky Bros. Integrated Recycling Solutions’ Big Green Box, or they have pre-existing relationships with local recycling stations or a corporate system for recycling the batteries.
In 2000, the Keep Sandy Springs/North Fulton Beautiful program in Fulton County, Ga., put a rechargeable battery collection site at its Morgan Falls Recycling Center in Sandy Springs. It collected 2,775 pounds of batteries in 2006, mainly from residents of the county and the newly formed city, Sandy Springs, says Karin Zarin, the program’s executive director. Although the program collected roughly the same amount in 2005, Zarin says the collection rate has declined since 2000, probably because more recycling programs are becoming available.
Zarin’s program mentions the rechargeable battery recycling drop site on its Web site, and staff distribute handouts about battery recycling opportunities around the community. When Sandy Springs adopts its solid waste ordinance in the next month or two, Zarin expects the city will begin a new educational effort on recycling and rechargeable battery collection. “It’s been an educational process, but I think a lot of people are aware of it,” Zarin says.