National energy needs and consumer convenience do not always align. But beginning in 2015, Connecticut residents may not have so difficult a choice.

Waiting in the wings of the Connecticut legislature is a comprehensive battery recycling law that would set a new national precedent for reducing heavy metal waste.

Whereas a few states, most recently Vermont, have passed recycling laws for single-use batteries, Connecticut would be the nation’s first state to extend its battery recycling program to the full litany of “covered batteries:” alkaline, zinc carbon, lithium primary silver oxide and zinc air batteries. The measure would also include computer, watch and cell phone batteries. The law would require sellers of all types of batteries to report sales to the state, divest in unapproved battery products and either start a battery recycling program or appoint an existing group to tackle a similar program.

Economic concerns hold center stage in the bill. Ten percent of the state’s batteries is expected to be cycled back into the economy within two years of implementation, and 20 percent within five years, the bill says. For example, the lithium carbonate from cathodes alone currently sells for near $6000 a ton, according to the consulting firm Frost & Sullivan’s report by company analyst Aswin Kumar.

In addition to fomenting growth, the bill includes a clear effort to mitigate the burden to municipalities. The bill’s authors expressed intent to reduce waste only to the extent the reduction is economically feasible. One of the bill’s clauses would offer leeway in collection requirements to businesses that experience any sort of “technological, ecological, cultural, economic or other impediments.”

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Analyst Tom Metzner, who commented directly on the bill, said that each battery recycled represents a disposal job for a Connecticut resident.

“This increases recycling, it removes items from the waste stream and it creates jobs around recovery of the material,” said Metzner.

Companies like Tesla Motors project that batteries will supersede conventional combustion sources, which would put Connecticut’s law in the national spotlight.

In a statement last December, Tesla Founder Elon Musk stressed the long-term possibilities for battery technology.

“We have barely scratched the surface of the metal resource availability of the Earth’s crust,” Musk said. “And this is a very fundamentally different thing from mining coal or oil because metal is recycled. So once you have enough metal to support a given size of industry, then it just keeps going in a recycling process.”

Students on Yale’s campus spoke with a similar eye for the future of recycling batteries.

Tess Maggio ’16, who serves as president of Yale Project Bright ­— a program which plans to use batteries to support their solar projects ­— emphasized the long-run importance of Connecticut’s proposal for the success of future energy technologies.

“The embodied energy stored in these batteries themselves can be forgotten, as well as the environmental impacts of improper disposal,” Maggio said. “Battery recycling is absolutely essential, and [Connecticut’s] various mandates as well as methods to facilitate this process are exactly what is needed.”

Given recycling is a consumer-driven behavior, some question if simple recycling programs are enough.

Students interviewed believed opportunities to recycle weren’t enough without convenience.

“Access to recycling centers is far more important than the plausibility of recycling all of [the types of batteries],” said Holden Leslie-Bole ’18, a member of Fossil Free Yale. “A lot of people aren’t going to make the long trek for a small ecological contribution ­— proximity definitely has an impact on the frequency with which people recycle.”

Leslie-Bole added that a curb-side pickup could mitigate the problem and, by bringing recycling to the consumer, lead to recycling a wider range of products in the future.

Certain clauses in the bill, which is only a draft at present, suggest that battery disposal outlets will be present everywhere consumers would typically visit for batteries.

“I think that it can be far more empowering and motivating to people to feel that they can make a positive difference toward sustainability instead of feeling that they are continually creating the problem,” Leslie-Bole said.

Currently, 85 to 90 percent of recyclable batteries in Connecticut end up as waste at the end of their first lifetime.

 

Contact james barile at