The state that’s known for often setting the pace in North America for environmental protection initiatives and innovation will require that retailers in California take back rechargeable batteries. The requirement will begin under legislation signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in October. As of July 1, 2006, the Rechargeable Battery Act will require California retailers who sell rechargeable batteries to take back the batteries at no charge to the consumer.
The program targets large, non-food merchants. Grocery stores and retailers with annual gross sales below US$1 million are exempted. Retailers have the option of using existing take-back programs like the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation program. The legislation was sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Fran Pavley. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control considers rechargeable batteries hazardous, and they must be disposed of as hazardous waste starting February 8. The Act will require the Department of Toxic Substances Control to survey battery handling and recycling operations annually, and the data collected will be used to determine the estimated amount by weight of each type of rechargeable batteries returned.
California’s program will be of interest to policymakers in Canada. For years, critics have charged that batteries need to be treated as a hazardous material and kept out of landfill via a mandatory product stewardship program. Heavy metals from batteries are one of the most common forms of household hazardous waste (HHW) and eventually make their way into and further contaminate — landfill leachate. Every aspect of waste disposal — including composting — is compromised by the presence of these items in waste, that most Canadians just casually toss in the garbage with little second thought. There simply isn’t a deposit-refund-type economic signal telling them to take the batteries to a convenient drop-off location. It’s rumored that the voluntary program operated by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) has acheived little more than public relations for the battery companies, helping them avoid the cost of a madatory program while collecting and recycling as little as one per cent of the batteries.