Topic:
RECYCLING; SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT;
Location:
SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT-RECYCLING;
Scope:
Federal laws/regulations; Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


November 25, 1997 97-R-0916

TO:

FROM: Matthew Ranelli, Associate Attorney

RE: Battery Recycling

You asked for information regarding recycling batteries in the state.

SUMMARY

Batteries are a good example of a common household waste that presents a serious potential harm to the environment. Batteries commonly contain one or two heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, zinc, or nickel and are potentially toxic. If disposed of in landfills or incinerators, the metals persist and create potential groundwater or incinerator ash and emissions problems.

Because batteries are potentially hazardous wastes, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) rules inhibited merchants and manufactures from organizing recycling efforts. Thus most batteries were throw-out as household trash. In 1995, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in an attempt to encourage such recycling efforts, adopted the Universal Waste Rule, which exempted batteries from RCRA and establishing handling and labeling requirements. In 1996 Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (Battery Management Act), which phases out the sale of mercury batteries and promotes recycling.

Connecticut law prohibits the sale of certain batteries, restricts the sale of some, and restricts the disposal of others. Most of the state's requirements are superceded by the Battery Management Act.

Connecticut does not require municipalities to pick up batteries, other than motor vehicle batteries, as part of the mandatory curbside recycling program, but each municipality must have a plan to prevent the knowing disposal of batteries in its municipal wastestream.

BATTERIES UNDER THE UNIVERSAL WASTE RULE

Because batteries are potentially hazardous materials, organized recycling efforts faced many obstacles under RCRA. RCRA strictly regulates the storage, treatment, and disposal of hazardous wastes and imposes liability on the handlers. Manufacturers and merchants were reluctant to get involved with battery recycling because of these requirements and liability. As a result most batteries were thrown out as household waste and ultimately disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Heavy metals from the batteries disposed of this way could increase the toxicity of the landfill leachate or the incinerator fly and bottom ash.

On May 11, 1995, the EPA adopted regulations to remove RCRA's impediments to battery recycling (60 FR 25542 (May 11, 1995)). The regulations, known as the Universal Waste Rule exempt batteries and two other widely generated and dispersed wastes (pesticides and thermostats) from RCRA and established less stringent collection and handling requirements. States were given the option of adopting the rule or continuing to regulate the wastes under the existing regulations. EPA stated that the regulations were to ease the regulatory burden on retail stores that wanted to operate battery recycling programs and to reduce the number of batteries that were going to landfills or incinerators as municipal waste.

The Universal Waste Rule broadly defined batteries as devices “consisting of one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells, which is designed to receive, store, and deliver electric energy” including an intact, unbroken battery from which the electrolyte has been removed. It does not cover lead-acid motor vehicle batteries which are specifically exempt from RCRA and included in an existing and successful recycling program. The rule requires handlers of universal waste batteries to manage them in a way that prevents release of the waste or a waste component to the environment. Batteries that show signs of leakage must be contained in a closable, structurally sound container. Handlers may engage in the following activities (1) sorting batteries by type, (2) mixing battery types in one container, (3) discharging batteries so as to remove the electric charge, (4) regenerating used batteries, (5) disassembling batteries or battery packs into individual batteries or cells, (6) removing batteries from consumer products, or (7) removing electrolytes from batteries.

It also requires handlers to clearly label the container as either “Universal Waste-Battery(ies)”, “Waste Battery(ies)”, or “Used Battery(ies)”.

Connecticut has not adopted the Universal Waste Rule, but the recently passed Battery Management Act requires batteries to be handled in accordance with the rule regardless of state adoption. According to Tom Metzner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state still plans to adopt the rule to cover the other two wastes (pesticides and thermostats).

THE BATTERY MANAGEMENT ACT

In 1996 Congress passed the Battery Management Act to phase out the use of mercury in batteries manufactured after May 13, 1996, and to promote recycling (42 USC 14301 et seq.). The act prohibits the sale or promotional use of: (1) alkaline-manganese or zinc-carbon batteries with a mercury content that was intentionally introduced; (2) button cell mercuric-oxide batteries for use in the United States; and (3) any mercuric-oxide battery unless the manufacturer identifies a collection site that has all required federal, state, and local government approvals, where people may send such batteries for recycling or disposal and informs purchasers of the site and of a telephone number to get information about sending the batteries for recycling or disposal.

The act prohibits anyone from selling for use in the United States a regulated battery or a rechargeable consumer product ready for retail sale and manufactured on or after May 13, 1997, unless the act's labeling requirements are met and the battery is easily removable from the product or is sold separately. It sets labeling requirements, including that the label contain a statement that the battery must be recycled or disposed of properly.

CONNECTICUT

Before EPA adopted the Universal Waste Rule, the legislature passed several laws requiring battery recycling and prohibiting the sale of some batteries and restricting the disposal of others. These laws were passed in part to anticipate a national recycling program called “charged up the recycle” organized by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), an industry trade group (see attachment 1). The Battery Management Act supercedes most of the state requirements.

Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cad)

Connecticut prohibits the sale of ni-cad batteries in consumer products unless they are easily removable and labeled to indicate that they are ni-cad batteries and must be disposed of properly (CGS 22a-256b). The law authorizes the commissioner to issue two-year exceptions for certain products. In addition, each municipality must recycle ni-cad batteries from consumer products disposed of in its solid waste stream within three months of the establishment of a regional processing center (CGS 22a-256a).

According to a DEP memo to town officials, towns were required by May 1, 1996, to participate in a service provided by the RBRC or in another service (see attachment 2). The RBRC service provides containers for the batteries at cost and pays the cost of shipping and recycling (see attachment 3).

The Battery Management Act contains labeling and removability requirements that supercede but are largely the same as the state requirements.

Mercuric-Oxide

The law prohibits the disposal of mercuric-oxide batteries (known as button batteries and used in cameras, watches, hearing aids, and other small devices) except by giving them to a retailer, wholesaler, manufacturer, or recycling center. It requires that consumer goods containing such batteries be labeled and that retailers and wholesalers that sell such batteries post notice that they accept the used ones. It also requires the DEP commissioner and the commissioner of social services to assist senior citizen centers in establishing mercuric battery collection and recycling programs (CGS 22a-256c).

The Battery Management Act prohibits the sale of mercuric-oxide button cell batteries and makes most of the state requirements unnecessary.

Alkaline-Manganese and Zinc-Carbon

The law prohibits the sale of alkaline-manganese batteries manufactured after January 1, 1992 containing more than 0.0025% mercury by weight and the sale of zinc-carbon batteries manufactured after January 1, 1993, containing more than one part per million of mercury by weight (CGS 22a-256d and 256e). The Battery Management Act supercedes these requirements with lower maximum mercury standards.

Lead Acid or Motor Vehicle Batteries

The law prohibits the disposal of lead batteries as municipal solid waste. It requires that they be disposed of by delivery to (1) a retailer, (2) a recycling facility, (3) a secondary lead smelter permitted by EPA, (4) a scrap metal processor, or (5) a municipality' established collection site. The retailer must return the battery to a wholesaler or one of the other acceptable parties. The law requires retailers to accept the batteries and to post notice advising customers that they accept batteries and that disposal by other means is illegal (CGS 22a-256f - 256I).

MR:pa