Thinking green with batteries

Adopting responsible practices that reduce the e-waste stream while making economic sense can positively influence consumer brand preferences

By Thomas Blaha
President, Memory Protection Devices

Product designers and procurement professionals need to be mindful that successful brands demonstrate a strong commitment to environmental protection and sustainability.

This commitment starts by addressing the growing problem of used alkaline batteries, as Americans purchase nearly 3.3 billion alkaline cells annually: a staggering amount that can be cut significantly by substituting rechargeable batteries and battery holders.

This environmentally-conscious approach also makes good business sense. For example, equipping a device with four (4) AA rechargeable Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries could cost up to $50 but provides 5+ years of service with 500+ recharge cycles. Conversely, having to replace a set of four (4) alkaline batteries multiple times over the life of the device could add up to as much as $1,000, nearly 20 times more expensive. If properly educated, consumers will certainly consider paying more initially to save money in the long run.

Increasing regulation for e-waste recycling

Increased regulatory controls have transformed battery manufacturing, recycling, and shipping. In 1996, Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act to address the collection and recycling of NiCd cells along with certain small sealed lead-acid batteries intended for “personal or household use” in cellular phones, laptops and personal computers, cordless power tools, video cameras, and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS).

The Battery Act required proper battery labeling that indicates consumer responsibility for proper recycling/disposal, and requires easy battery access for removable at end-of-life. In addition, certain mercury-based chemistries were phased out, including most alkaline-manganese, zinc-carbon, and mercuric oxide batteries.

Since improperly packaged batteries can pose a fire hazard, the USDoT introduced Call2Recycle regulations that require all batteries to be individually bagged or taped prior to shipping. Li-ion batteries must be sorted separately from other recyclable batteries, including individually bagged (or terminals taped) to ensure safe storage and shipping. If the shipping package is damaged, the batteries must be quarantined, inspected, and repackaged. Also, any package containing Li-ion batteries with a gross weight of 30 kg (66 lb) or more must be marked “LITHIUM BATTERY, UN 3090”, carry the Class 9 miscellaneous hazard label, and be handled by specially trained shippers in accordance with U.S. hazmat regulations.

Dozens of states have also passed some form of e-waste legislation, including mandatory electronics recycling and recovery programs for computers, peripherals, and other electronic devices. Battery manufacturers have independently funded the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), a nonprofit public service organization dedicated to educating manufacturers, retailers and consumers about the benefits of rechargeable battery recycling. The RBRC established a national cadmium recovery facility in Ellwood City, PA

Thinking forward

Approximately 73% of municipal solid waste is sent to landfills or incinerated. Intelligent prctices are needed to ensure that batteries and other e-waste is properly disposed of or recycled to limit the amount of heavy metals and harmful chemicals that enter the food chain, including many known carcinogens.

Fortunately, rechargeable batteries are becoming less toxic and less expensive, making them a cost viable alternative for consumer and industrial electronics. Battery holders offer additional benefits at minimal cost by firmly securing the cells and by enabling fast battery removal at end-of-life.

As the cost of rechargeable Li-ion batteries continues to drop, they are becoming an increasingly wise investment for OEMs based on the merits of adopting a more consumer-focused approach that values environmental protection and a lower total cost of ownership over short-term profits. This is a winning strategy, as embracing corporate responsibility towards environmental protection and sustainability serves to positively influence consumer brand preferences.

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