Consumers don’t always know the difference between single-use and rechargeable batteries, which is why the national Call2Recycle program inadvertently collects single-use batteries from manufacturers that do not contribute to the cost of recycling them. But Washington State’s battery Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bill, now on the governor’s desk, includes a broad scope – including e-mobility, portable, and medium-format batteries – of both single-use and rechargeable batteries, which is essential to an effective system because it fairly allocates recycling costs to all battery manufacturers and eliminates free riders. This legislation levels the playing field and sets a new standard for battery EPR in the U.S.
Batteries contain valuable materials such as steel, manganese, and zinc, which are mined using energy-intensive processes that emit greenhouse gases; they also contain hazardous materials. In addition, fires at waste management facilities are on the rise because of lithium-ion batteries. Collecting and recycling batteries saves valuable resources, reduces environmental and human health impacts, and helps prevent the health and safety hazards posed by these discarded products entering the waste stream.
Vermont enacted the nation’s first single-use household battery EPR law in 2014, which PSI helped pass: In its first year of implementation, that state increased collection by more than 180 percent. More recently, PSI provided technical support to incorporate best practices from our model battery EPR legislation into the Washington DC law enacted in 2021, which is the first single-use and rechargeables battery EPR law in the nation that also addresses battery-containing products. Last year, representatives from 10 states joined our battery stakeholder group to develop PSI’s next-generation battery EPR legislative model, elements of which were included in the California law enacted in 2022 that was championed by the California Product Stewardship Council and also covered single use and rechargeable batteries.
Similarly, the new legislation, which was championed by Zero Waste Washington and PSI’s state and local members in Washington, included elements of our battery EPR model. If signed by the Governor, this bill will create a statewide battery stewardship program for Washington that is managed and sustainably funded by producers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing toxic substances from the waste stream. It is consistent with EPR best practices as it includes:
- Performance goals to drive program effectiveness.
- Convenience standards to ensure that the program is accessible state-wide.
- Education and outreach, including resources targeted at overburdened and vulnerable communities to raise public awareness about how to recycle batteries.
- Annual reporting to monitor program implementation.
The bill also contains other elements of successful programs, including material fees that incentivize environmental performance, a stewardship plan, and opportunities to improve the plan as the program is implemented and matures. Local governments will have the opportunity to participate in the program and be reimbursed by producers for their costs of collection; they will also save money as transportation and processing costs are assumed by producers.
By October 2027, the Department of Ecology must complete an assessment and submit findings to the legislature on the opportunities and challenges associated with the end-of-life management of batteries not covered by the legislation, includinglarge-format batteries and those in battery-containing products that are embedded and/or not designed to be easily removed. The assessment must consider which criteria of the legislation should apply to these batteries and battery-containing products. By April 2024, the Department of Ecology must also submit a report to the legislature on policy recommendations for the collection and management of electric vehicle batteries.
Large format batteries that weigh more than 25 pounds, such as those used in electric vehicles, solar power system, and data centers, are expected to experience significant market growth in the coming years. If these batteries are not collected and recycled, they will increase in the waste stream. Similarly, battery-embedded products – which refer to products that contain batteries, which are not designed to be removed from the product by the consumer – either end up in the waste stream or are sent to battery/electronics recycling centers, where they are expensive to dispose of. Leading EPR battery programs in British Columbia and the European Union have already taken this step toward including a broader product scope that includes larger batteries and battery-embedded products. Some battery producers have global markets and sell into these jurisdictions and will have to meet these requirements there.
Product Stewardship Institute recommends that Washington expand the program as soon as possible. Washington already has significant experience passing and implementing EPR programs for electronics and mercury-containing lamps, and has more recently enacted stewardship programs for solar panels, pharmaceuticals, and paint, all of which are based on the fundamental principles of EPR. These laws improve collection convenience, build better supply chains, protect the environment and human health, and create jobs – all while significantly reducing the financial and management burden on local governments. Product Stewardship Institute looks forward to similarly positive outcomes from this new battery legislation.