Battery Manufacturers Pledge to Nationwide Recycling

battery recycling

Photo: Earth911

Last week, Rayovac, Panasonic, Duracell and Energizer committed to a nationwide program that seeks to improve the recycling of household batteries.

Together, these four companies have launched the non-profit Corporation for Battery Recycling (CBR) that since last year has studied how to improve the recycling of batteries in the United States so that it is both environmentally sound and cost-effective.

Such a move is important because battery recycling across the U.S. has long been haphazard and inconsistent. Retailers, including IKEA, have launched battery recycling programs in their stores, but Department of Transportation regulations covering the transport of spent batteries had the result of sending more batteries into landfill.

In 2009, the DOT mandated that batteries shipped to recycling centers either have both ends covered with tape or were required to be individually bagged. Despite recyclers’ insistence that fears over battery fires were overblown, the DOT regulations have still remained firmly in place. Meanwhile, the heavy metals and chemicals that are tucked into these batteries are sitting in garbage dumps and could even be contaminating local sources of groundwater. And many municipalities do not accept batteries as part of their recycling programs.

To that end, CBR began research last year to find the most effective ways to collect used batteries, transport them and ship them to recyclers. Working with MIT, the CBR’s working group determined that under the right circumstances, battery recycling could indeed become profitable.

The group also completed an exhaustive lifecycle analysis that confirmed the group’s belief that battery recycling across the country needed vast improvement and that a nationwide scaled-up plan was definitely worth the investment and effort.

Pilot projects throughout California, including San Luis Obispo and Santa Clara counties began earlier this year and allowed CBR to consult with battery recyclers and retailers to develop best practices that could eventually be rolled out nationwide.

The national program will focus on the collection of almost all consumer batteries. Alkaline, zinc carbon, lithium, silver oxide and alkaline manganese are among the various types of batteries that CBR will target for recycling in the next several months.

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Just about every battery in any size up to 1.2 pounds in weight should be eligible for this nationwide recycling program, from tiny hearing aid and watch batteries to the AA and AAA with which just about every consumer has grown up. Rechargeable batteries, according to the CBR working group, will also be included in this nationwide campaign.

The overall goal would be to find new ways to extract heavy metals and other valuable materials out of old batteries and then create new ones, which would then reduce the amount of virgin materials needed to manufacture household batteries.

CBR’s next step is to find a nationwide organization, either a non-profit or a private sector company, to carry out the group’s goals. Such a “Stewardship Organization,” for which CBR has released a request for proposal (RFP), would be responsible for a bevy of initiatives.

First, this organization would lead the development of an ambitious communication and education program across the country that would tout the benefits of battery recycling.

Next, a consistent recycling program for all batteries, which would be convenient for retailers and consumers, would be central to this organization’s agenda. This same company or non-profit would work with manufacturers to develop new batteries that would be more environmentally responsible than the ones currently on the market.

Finally, CBR insists that the winning bid include reporting systems to gauge the collection, sorting, transport and recycling of these batteries.

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