Getting Charged Up

AS AMERICANS' USE OF wireless devices increases, so does the amount of rechargeable batteries that are recycled.

In 2005, the Atlanta-based Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) collected nearly 5 million pounds of rechargeable batteries in the United States and Canada, up almost 10 percent from 2004, during which it collected 4.4 million pounds, according to statistics the organization released in January. That increase compares to a 7.7 percent increase in 2004 versus 2003 figures. Meanwhile, a survey conducted by New York-based NOP World for RBRC in April 2005 found that Americans use an average of six wireless devices a day — including cordless and cellular phones, iPods, Blackberrys and laptops — up from three devices a day in 1999 and five in 2005.

Reasons for the rise in pounds collected include the creation of more drop-off facilities for batteries and cell phones, according to RBRC. In the NOP World study, 90 percent of respondents said that they would be more likely to recycle their batteries if there was somewhere nearby to take them.

RBRC also cites its waiver of shipping charges for businesses that collect cell phones as an explanation for the increase. RBRC now sends participants free collection boxes with pre-paid and pre-addressed shipping labels. The corporation also debuted a series of public service announcements that appeared on Home and Garden Television and The Learning Channel networks.

In 2006, RBRC's efforts will be complemented by a California ban effective Feb. 8 that prohibits residents and small quantity generators from disposing of batteries, along with several other types of “universal wastes,” such as thermostats and other items that contain mercury or other heavy metals. Since 2001, the ban, known as the Universal Waste Rule, has been in effect; however, exemptions were given to households and small businesses to allow local agencies to establish collection and disposal systems.

How effective the ban proves to be will depend on residents' sense of responsibility. The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has said it will not sort through garbage cans to hunt down violators, but instead will “focus its enforcement resources on complaint response and on violations of the hazardous waste regulations that present immediate and significant risks to public health or the environment,” according to a department statement.

Continued increases in the amount of batteries collected likely will hinge on a combination of collection and disposal infrastructure and education. “We realize some communities offer more convenient disposal and recycling options than others,” said DTSC Director Maureen Gorsen in a news release. “So we will continue to work with other agencies and retailers to offer convenient disposal and recycling options, and will continue to educate the public about the proper disposal of these products.”