What are the Issues?
Over five billion dry-cell batteries are purchased in the U.S. annually. These consumer-type single-use and rechargeable batteries are used in a wide range of portable devices including common household items such as calculators, clocks, cameras, flashlights, watches, and toys among others. Although there are many battery recycling programs across North America, the vast majority of both rechargeable and single-use batteries continue to be sent to landfills and waste-to-energy facilities. This unnecessarily squanders material resources and energy and also represents a missed opportunity for recycling jobs. In addition, certain rechargeable batteries may contain toxic materials which can pose environmental and public health risks when disposed of in the trash.
There is also a lack of consumer awareness about the need to recycle certain batteries and/or where to recycle. Local and state laws and/or programs contain different provisions for the
scope of batteries covered (e.g., single-use or rechargeable), performance metrics, reporting
requirements, retailer responsibilities, and other aspects of battery management. This can add to consumer confusion and reduce motivation to recycle which ultimately can negatively impact the quantity of batteries recycled. In addition, it is important to develop a long-term financing system (e.g., EPR) to manage spent batteries in a manner that alleviates the financial burden faced by governments and to reduce the overall cost of battery management.
Over the past four years, all-battery stewardship bills that would require manufacturers to collect and recycle both rechargeable and single-use batteries were introduced in California and Vermont. These bills were subsequently changed to single-use only battery bills and another single-use only battery bill has been introduced in Minnesota. In May, 2014, Vermont passed a first-in-the-nation extended producer responsibility law covering single-use batteries. This law will require battery manufacturers to implement a convenient collection program to manage the more than 10 million batteries estimated to be sold in Vermont each year. Battery bills for rechargeables only have been introduced in Oregon and Washington.
To maximize recycling of batteries, consumer convenience needs to be central to any program along with efforts to reduce confusion about which batteries can be recycled. An approach to battery stewardship that includes both single-use and rechargeable batteries is essential to achieving this goal. If consumers cannot easily assess how to participate in battery recycling, they are more likely to throw their batteries in the trash.
What is PSI Doing to Help?
For over five years, PSI has worked with various stakeholders to improve the collection and recycling of batteries. This work has included facilitating national stakeholder dialogues, testifying in support of product stewardship legislation, and developing reports that support an understanding of the issues associated with battery recycling and benchmark a wide range of battery programs in the United States and internationally. We have also been working with state and local governments to introduce producer responsibility legislation for batteries to help increase recycling rates by requiring producers to take financial responsibility for the end-of–life management of both rechargeable and single-use batteries. Here are some important highlights of our work, starting with the most recent:
2013 - 2014
PSI is working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on a strategy to transition from a voluntary to a mandatory system to recover all battery types with the goal of maximizing battery recycling in the state. PSI is also leading a national dialogue for states and stakeholders that are interested in passing battery producer responsibility laws.
In June, 2014, PSI facilitated a national battery stewardship dialogue meeting in Hartford, Connecticut with a focus on the Northeast. In preparation for this meeting, PSI developed a briefing document to prepare participants for the battery stewardship dialogue meeting and to serve as a basis for meeting discussions. This document included background information on battery composition, markets, and lifecycle management, and will serve as a basis for additional discussions on battery management in the United States. At this battery stewardship meeting, a consortium of battery trade groups unveiled a first-in-the-nation proposed model of extended producer responsibility legislation covering both single-use and rechargeable batteries. This proposed legislation is a significant step forward toward developing a model bill that will meet the needs of, and be supported by, a wider stakeholder group. PSI is in the process of building a new proposed model with a menu of options for states that is based on the battery trade organization model but incorporates comments from a wide variety of stakeholders who participated in the dialogue meeting. A bill covering both single-use and rechargeable batteries is expected to be introduced in state legislatures starting in 2015. PSI will continue to facilitate the development and introduction of a model bill with the intent of harmonizing the model in the U.S. and possibly throughout North America.
PSI was selected to serve on the industry’s Battery Planning Council to help plan the 2011 Battery Summit. This multi-stakeholder meeting helped develop a plan for a national recycling program for single-use batteries. We worked extensively in spring 2010 with the battery industry and other key stakeholder groups and developed a Battery Stewardship Briefing Document in preparation for discussions that took place at the PSI National Product Stewardship Forum on July 21, 2010 in Boston. The report and meeting explored strategies for increasing recycling of rechargeable batteries, harmonizing battery stewardship laws, and the lifecycle impacts from all major battery chemistries. In 2010, PSI also testified in support of battery stewardship legislation in California, which would have been the first U.S. program to require manufacturers to fund the recycling of all battery chemistries, bringing the U.S. in line with European and many Canadian battery programs.
In July 2009, we released a report that was developed under contract with the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation. This document, “Battery Performance Metrics: Recommendations for Best Practice,” showcases the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of current battery collection and recycling programs. In addition, the report provides examples of how performance has been measured in both the United States and internationally, and offers guidelines on how to best evaluate battery take-back programs.
To view existing extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws in the U.S., visit our Map of State EPR Laws page. To view pending and active EPR legislation in the U.S.—privileged content available exclusively to PSI Members and Partners—login here.
For more information, please contact Suna Bayrakal at (617) 671-0616.