First-in-nation single-use battery recycling mandate signed into law in Vermont

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First-in-nation single-use battery recycling mandate signed into law in Vermont

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 4:38am -- tim

Start saving your flashlight batteries for recycling: On May 22, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law Act 139, the first battery recycling law of its kind in the country. Act 139 lays the groundwork for free and convenient recycling of most single-use batteries sold in Vermont by 2016. The law requires single-use battery manufacturers to plan, implement, and manage a statewide battery collection program by January 1, 2016. Single-use batteries include alkaline, zinc carbon, lithium primary silver oxide, and zinc air batteries, commonly used in flashlights, remote controls, and toys. They make up more than 80 per cent of batteries sold in the US.

"This bill is Vermont at its best: a collaboration between manufacturers, state, and local government," said Peter Shumlin upon signing the bill. "Vermonters buy over 10 million batteries a year and this bill will provide Vermonters with convenient options for recycling primary batteries." 

The law was supported by government officials and the battery industry. Many battery manufacturers are interested in capturing the resources contained in batteries after they are used and look to the legislation requiring that all manufacturers participate in the program as a good way to level the battery-market playing field. Successful producer responsibility laws already on the books in Vermont includes industry-sponsored collection programs for automobile switches, mercury thermostats, electronic waste, mercury lamps, and architectural paint.

Mandates requiring manufacturers to bear the burden of managing their products when they reach the end of their useful life are called "product stewardship" or "extended producer responsibility" (EPR) laws. Currently, it is up to taxpayers and municipalities to pay for a system to manage products that are difficult and to recycle. By requiring manufacturers to set up and pay for a collection system, producer responsibility laws provide incentives for them to redesign products for ease of recycling and reduced toxicity for cheaper disposal. 

In the case of single-use batteries, it costs nearly a dollar a pound to recycle them. There is already a successful voluntary collection program in place for rechargeable batteries because they contain high levels of materials that are valuable on the commodities market, which offsets the cost of running those collection programs.

"We are incredibly fortunate in Vermont to have the collaboration of solid waste planning entities, the Vermont Product Stewardship Council, and the legislative leadership of Tony Klein and others to pass this first of its kind legislation in Vermont," said Jen Holliday, Product Stewardship Program Manager for the Chittenden Solid Waste District and Chair of the Vermont Product Stewardship Council. "This will keep millions of batteries out of the landfill and save resources without costing local government thousands of dollars a year to recycle them."

The law will require battery manufacturers to submit a plan to the state by July 1, 2015, outlining how they will implement convenient battery drop-off locations for consumers at retail and municipal sites by January 1, 2016.