In 1994, the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation was created in order to promote the recycling of rechargeable batteries in North America. The Battery Act of 1996 helped develop an infrastructure to help the public recycled rechargeable batteries more easily, which has led to the recycling of over 55 million pounds of rechargeable batteries…but what about other battery types? Americans throw out about 180,000 tons of batteries annually and there continues to be no infrastructure for consumers to recycle other very common battery chemistries, such as alkaline, which account for 90% of batteries used by U.S. consumers.
The five leading manufacturers of batteries in the U.S., Energizer, Duracell, Rayovac, Kodak, and Panasonic, decided to tackle this issue in April 2011, when an unprecedented industry-wide stakeholder Battery Summit was held in Dallas, TX. This meeting was attended by 75 professionals from 8 different stakeholder groups, including individuals from recycling facilities, NGOs, federal and state regulators, consumers, retailers, device manufacturers, municipalities, academics, and waste haulers, with the goal of developing an environmentally and economically sound zero-waste program to recycle batteries.
Why wasn’t an infrastructure to recyclable all battery types created when the rechargeable battery recycling initiatives were started in 1994? There have been two main barriers to recycling batteries: cost and environmental impact. The cost of recycling batteries is $1.03 per pound compared to $0.22 per pound to put them in a landfill. In addition, according to a Life Cycle Assessment commissioned by Energizer Battery from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which accounts for the environmental impact of a product in various categories from material extraction through disposal, technology has just reached a point where recycling alkaline batteries will cause less environmental harm than disposing of them in a landfill. The reason the environmental impact of recycling alkaline batteries was greater was because the technology was not available to efficiently collect, transport, sort, process, and produce new products from disposed alkaline batteries. In addition, harmful chemicals such as Mercury were removed from alkaline batteries over 20 years ago, making them much safer to dispose.
The Summit is planning to effectively address these issues by collaborating with its diverse group of stakeholders. Members of the Summit met again in December 2011 to discuss progress, and more meetings have been scheduled through 2012. The goal of the Summit is to have a zero-waste battery recycling program developed at the end of 2012 and ready to launch in 2013. Keep up to date with the Summit’s progress here.
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