Billions of single-use (“primary”) and rechargeable batteries power our lives each day. Although several battery recycling programs exist across North America, many consumers don’t know how to recycle batteries and why it is so important.
As a result, the vast majority of batteries end up in landfills and waste-to-energy facilities. This improper disposal squanders precious natural resources and energy, represents a missed opportunity to create recycling jobs, and can result in groundwater and air contamination from toxic battery materials like cadmium and lead.
Lithium ion batteries (common in consumer electronics) compound the problem. They can catch fire or even explode in the trash -- causing millions of dollars of damage and endangering the lives of waste workers.
As electric vehicles rapidly climb in popularity, electric car batteries will soon add to the waste stream.
Now is the time to set up systems that ensure they are recycled before they become a public burden.
Battery take-back programs are a key strategy to prevent environmental impacts, return valuable materials to the circular economy, reduce greenhouse gases, and create recycling jobs. To be effective, they must be sustainably funded and available year-round to everyone.
Despite voluntary industry programs to collect and recycle batteries, like Call2Recycle, only 12 to 15 percent of rechargeable batteries (and a much smaller percentage of single-use batteries) are being recycled in the U.S. Since financial contributions from battery producers to the recycling program are voluntary in most states, the current program also enables “free riders” whose products are recycled at the expense of other companies.
PSI advocates nationally for “extended producer responsibility” (EPR) laws that require all battery producers to sustainably finance and run convenient recycling programs for batteries of all types. EPR systems create a level playing field that shares responsibility fairly among producers and relieves governments from the costs of disparate local battery recycling efforts.
The most successful battery EPR programs prioritize consumer convenience in collection locations, accept both single-use and rechargeable batteries, have performance goals for collection and recycling, and include significant consumer outreach and education.
How We’re Leading the Way
PSI facilitated a national multi-stakeholder dialogue that resulted in the passage of the first -- and still the only -- EPR law in the U.S. that covers all household primary batteries. The law passed in Vermont in 2014 under the leadership of Chittenden County and with the support of PSI. Today, we work with the Vermont Product Stewardship Council to monitor the program and recommend improvements to the State legislature.
We provide model bill language, best practices, technical assistance, and lobbying support to government agencies seeking to pass a battery EPR law. We are currently assisting the New York Product Stewardship Council to pass an EPR bill for single-use batteries in New York State.
Battery take-back programs face unique challenges in rural areas, where collection sites are few and far between. We are helping rural communities in New York and Vermont, in conjunction with Call2Recycle, to boost battery collection and raise public awareness about battery recycling.