So, maybe it's not a shocker that stores don't want to pay to recycle batteries. People who buy batteries don't expect to pay again to recycle batteries either. But here's the trick: trashing batteries is illegal. California's Universal Waste Rule bans AAA, AA, C, D, button cell, 9-volts; rechargeables and alkalines, both. They contain copper, cadmium and lead.
It's not always easy to find places authorized to handle hazardous waste--the places batteries are supposed to go.
The Department of Toxic Substances Control has a list of places statewide. But when I plugged in my zip code, it came up with only one place, and it only accepts CRTs (computer monitors). CalRecycle's upcoming collection events page stopped being updated five years ago. The City of LA's Department of Public Works offers permanent drop off sites in Glendale, San Pedro, Playa, Sun Valley, UCLA, and Washington at Santa Fe, south of downtown. The county offers one-day special collections. You can't say they're not trying. But I've never successfully made it to the one on Colorado near Glendale, my closest LA city site.
The San Gabriel Valley pilot battery recycling project profiled today on the radio is meant to supplement all these more directly government-sponsored programs. The logic, as the program's backers explained to me, is that it's far more likely that people will recycle if the recycling opportunity is directly in front of their faces at a place they actually already visit. But even projects like this don't seem like a permanent solution. In the case of the San Gabriel Valley, the actual cost of shipping and recycling has been paid by Call2Recycle, a nonprofit group backed by rechargeable battery manufacturers, among others. Call2Recycle fills in a lot of gaps; you can find the boxes they provide in storefronts all over Southern California, not just in the SGV. But you still have to remember to find the things you're going to recycle, put them all in the same place, and have them ready to cart along when you next go to a Radio Shack or whatever. Even then, sometimes you get there and there's no box after all, either because a store has run out, or abandoned the program.
So maybe you're now wondering how all that recycling is going. The answer: not very well. In the last year for which statewide data is available, California actually recycled fewer batteries than the prior year. That's only a guess: "DTSC arrived at these estimates from data voluntarily submitted to DTSC by the major battery recyclers in California. DTSC thanks the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), Kinsbursky Brothers, Inc., Battery Solutions, Inc., and The Big Green Box for their assistance."
(More on how reporters do with recycling batteries, and arguments about producer accountability, in part 2.)