Throwing away rechargeable batteries is illegal in some areas. Here’s what you need to know about your local laws and how to recycle those batteries.
In December of last year, New York Governor George Paterson signed into law the “New York State Rechargeable Battery Law,” which makes it illegal for residents to knowingly throw rechargeable batteries in the trash as well as holds retailers responsible for battery collection and recycling.
Beginning June 8, 2011 any retail locations in New York State that sell rechargeable batteries must accept used batteries of the same type for recycling. By Dec. 5, 2011, it will be against the law for New Yorkers to put rechargeable batteries in the trash.
Even though national programs like Call2Recycle make battery recycling as easy as printing out a label, certain states and municipalities are still passing laws, stepping up the effort and demanding recycling.
Currently, 33 states have some type of rechargeable battery law on the books, but only two states – California and now New York – ban all rechargeable batteries from landfills and require retailers to collect and properly dispose them.
Last year Call2Recycle, which runs the only free rechargeable battery and cell phone recycling program in North America and partners with many states, diverted 6.7 million pounds of rechargeable batteries.
“Of the top 10 most populous states, three are bringing in more than a fair share of rechargeable batteries when indexed to population,” says Linda Gabor, VP of Marketing and Account Management for Call2Recycle. “These include California, Illinois, and Georgia which bring in 23 percent to 35 percent more weight than would be expected. The strength of collections in these three states is driven by the business sector.”
Gabor said that retail collection sites are strongest in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. “Florida is bringing in over 50 percent more batteries than would be expected across the retail channel. Pennsylvania and North Carolina outperform in the range of 30 percent and 10 percent respectively,” she says.
While New York is actually bringing in less weight than expected, it still accounts for 61 percent on the Call2Recycle collection index.
Andrew Radin, Director of Recycling, has been with the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency for 20 years. Part of their recycling efforts includes about 60 retail collection sites for rechargeable batteries throughout the county. Residents can also drop off batteries at a transfer station.
In 2010, the agency recycled 14,000 pounds of rechargeable batteries and 285,000 pounds of button batteries, mostly through their varied residential programs.
A few times a year, curbside collection of alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries is available in the county. Because the Department of Transportation requires that batteries be packaged in individual plastic bags to ensure few concerns if a battery exploded in transport, the agency supplies residents with plastic bags to use during curbside campaigns. Bags are also available at all collection points.
As with many recycling cases, the stream can easily become contaminated with the wrong materials. For instance during a curbside collection of alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries, a resident might unknowingly put all of their batteries in the bin. This means that extra attention must be paid during the sorting process.
“Sometimes additional sorting is necessary,” Radin says. The agency partners with Arc of Onondaga, the largest provider of services to people with developmental disabilities in the county, to help with some of the sorting.
Radin says that the new laws won’t affect the logistics of their current program, but “we will play an active role in advising our community about opportunities to conveniently recycle their rechargeable batteries in the wake of the new law.”
When it comes to running a successful program, Radin has some advice as well.
“Convenience is very important,” Radin says, referencing the 60 collection locations, nine of which are in grocery stores.
He also points to public education. “We feature this information on our website; we regularly include information in a printed newsletter that goes to 150,000 people quarterly; and we include information in email blasts, which reaches thousands a few times a month.”
Collaboration is the final piece of advice. “Our partnership with Call2Recycle is just so easy,” he says. “We really applaud their efforts to this product stewardship service, which we believe can be a model for other materials, too.”
But what’s all the fuss about recycling rechargeable batteries?
“Rechargeable batteries can contain metals that could potentially harm the environment if not disposed of properly, so it’s important to keep them out of landfills and properly manage their end of life through recycling,” says Gabor. “Additionally, rechargeable batteries contain metals of value that can be reclaimed for secondary use. Capturing the value of the underlying metals supports a ‘zero waste’ mentality.”
She says that if states believe strongly in extended producer responsibility, regulating rechargeable batteries is “obvious.”
“[Battery recycling] is one of the things each of us can do every day for the environment that added together makes a big difference,” Radin says. “By everyone recycling a relatively small amount, added together, it results in a large amount of waste, including heavy metals, being diverted from landfills. The littlest thing becomes the biggest thing when we all work together.”
Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Call2Recycle is one of these partners.