2012: The Year Of Battery Recycling?


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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Illegal E-Waste Dumping in Ghana

An investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has revealed that tons of e-waste from the United Kingdom has been shipped illegally in underground trade to developing countries in Africa for disposal.  

Environment Waste Controls (EWC), which runs the waste and recycling for the public and private sector, has admitted that electronic equipment from one of their sites has ended up in West Africa after being exported by a third party company.

As part of their investigation, EIA staff visited waste collection sites run by EWC and learned that some of the electronic waste was being collected and shipped to Nigeria and Ghana.  According to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Resources Regulations 2006, as long as the e-waste being exported were tested and deemed properly working it would be permissible to be shipped.

However, investigators hid tracking devices in television sets that were broken beyond repair and left them at the waste collection site.  After a couple of weeks, GPS signals showed that one set had been exported to Nigeria, while another had been shipped to Ghana.

The EIA believes that this is not an isolated incident, and that proper checks were not always carried out.  They say that the broken television sets should have been disposed of in the UK or shipped to a developed country instead of Africa.  

The EWC has fully cooperated with the investigation and has given a statement saying, ”This is unacceptable and EWC has put in place measures to prevent a reoccurrence of this practice and to undertake a full investigation in cooperation with the regulator and relevant authorities. We have instructed all our sub contractors that no electronic equipment deposited at designated collection facilities operated by EWC should leave the UK until further notice.”

Photo Credit: www.ci.yuma.az.us/Images/General/ss-0000-brokenTVtrash.jpg