Panasonic, Duracell (Procter & Gamble), Energizer and Rayovac today have announced an ambitious nationwide commitment to the recycling of household batteries. Under the umbrella of the Corporation for Battery Recycling (CBR), these four companies and other stakeholder groups envision an industry-led voluntary program that changes how American consumers dispose of household batteries.
CBR’s push is important because battery recycling is still a pesky problem for manufacturers, retailers and municipalities. Some retailers such as IKEA had ambitious recycling programs, but U.S. Department of Transportation regulations that required batteries be wrapped in individual plastic bags or taped at both ends caused their proper disposal to become far too problematic. Some municipalities accepted batteries into their recycling waste streams, but many did not – and whether that small plastic bag of batteries tossed in the blue bin actually ended up recycled or not was often in doubt. Too often those dead batteries contaminated groundwater and soil. But a new national program in the works could offer safer and greener solutions.
This battery business group’s work began last year with a full lifecycle analysis completed under a partnership with MIT. The study which began with a three-day “battery summit,” indicated that under the right conditions, the collection and recycling of household batteries could not only be a net positive for the environment, but also financially sound and even profitable. At a time where e-waste is causing billions of dollars to sit in landfills or exported to far off countries where it is reprocessed under horrid conditions, CBR found that a compelling business opportunity exists for either an NGO or a for-profit company to take the lead on this front. Now this working group is close to creating a voluntary framework where the recovery of materials including zinc, manganese and steel from batteries (including lithium batteries used in cameras or watches) offsets the extraction impact of virgin materials.
The next step is for CBR to engage what it describes as a “stewardship organization” that will direct this effort. A request for proposal (RFP) released today seeks a company or non-profit that will focus on the collection of consumer batteries across the country, communicate the program’s goals and also mitigate the environmental impact of all batteries on the market. Alkaline manganese (primary, cylindrical and prismatic), zinc carbon and lithium batteries up to two kilograms (4.4 pounds) as well as zinc air, silver oxide and lithium button cells are also part of the program. The upshot is that if a cell or battery is powering any kind of consumer product–including rechargeable batteries–that device, no matter how small, will find a way to end up recycled.
Communication will clearly be an important goal of this program as CBR and its partner organizations will work with consumers and retailers to educate, inspire and motivate consumers to recycle batteries safely and responsibly. With pilot programs in such California cities as San Luis Obispo proving that battery recycling makes business and ecological success, we could be very close to the day when battery recycling is as seamless as processing aluminum cans.
Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.