By Carl E. Smith, CEO / President, Call2Recycle, Inc.
May 5, 2015
My name is Carl Smith and I head the non-profit Call2Recycle, Inc., North America’s first and arguably most successful product stewardship organization. We are devoted to collecting and recycling consumer batteries in the US and Canada – we have recycled over 100 million pounds of used batteries since our inception in 1994. The program is free to consumers, municipalities, retailers and others that generate batteries for collection. 100% of our financing is from almost 300 industry stewards who have voluntarily funded a collection program in Texas for over 20 years.
I’m here to commend you and comment on H.B. 3153. We think it represents a great step in addressing the issues of consumer battery recycling. Battery collection and recycling is a complex subject, and you’ve taken the time to understand these complexities in developing this bill. This bill closely resembles a model bill that we participated in drafting so we, obviously, are very positive about your efforts.
Because of this, I won’t focus on many of the bill’s details in my testimony. Instead, my testimony focuses on three critical areas that we hope will guide your consideration of this bill. They are: 1) what batteries should be collected; 2) the issue of “free-riders” and ensuring that there is a level playing field for obligated producers; and, 3) focusing on program results instead of processes and approaches.
Of the total pounds of consumer batteries sold into Texas each year, approximately 20% were rechargeable batteries and 80% are single-use or primary batteries. We have historically focused on collecting rechargeable batteries in Texas. Our Texas results have been as follows:
Figure 1. Call2Recycle Battery Collections in Texas: 2012-2014
(Weight in pounds)
We collect from Texas retailers – Home Depot, Lowes’, Best Buy and Radio Shack are prime examples – along with many municipal governments including the City of Austin, Tarrant County and Dallas County. We also collect from universities, hospitals, military bases, and private businesses.
Our collections represent approximately 8% – 12% of the rechargeable batteries sold into the state each year. While substantial, it isn’t anywhere near where we’d like to be. Simply stated, the single most important policy you can enact to optimize collections is ensuring that this bill applies to both primary and rechargeable batteries. For instance, we ran a voluntary rechargeable program in the province of British Columbia until July 1, 2010, when a provincial law went into effect requiring through product stewardship the collection of both rechargeable and primary batteries. The collection of rechargeable batteries had doubled by 2013 which we believe is the result of both formalizing the program under the province stewardship mandate and applying it to all consumer batteries.
Consumers don’t generally recognize the difference nor should we attempt to force them to distinguish between the two. To effectively communicate what needs to be collecting, your mandate should apply to all consumer batteries.
Similarly, we urge you to minimize “carve-outs” or exemptions for certain types of batteries, such as medical devices or electronics. Exemptions are expensive to administer and, in most cases, we end up with the batteries in our waste stream anyway, causing an unfair burden on those obligated stewards who are participating in our program.
A good example is our experience in collecting and recycling rechargeable batteries in Texas that otherwise may not have been properly handled and recycled. The following chart shows the weight of rechargeable batteries collected from hospital and health care institutions in Texas that use us.
Figure 2. Call2Recycle Battery Collections from Health Facilities in Texas (2012-2014)
(Weight in Pounds)
Health care institutions are huge users of batteries and are generally very committed to ensuring the proper end-of-life disposal of them. Exempting products sold in hospitals from paying into a program doesn’t change the need to collect and recycle the batteries used by hospitals. Exemptions like this don’t make sense unless the batteries are part of products contaminated by use or are just not removable by the user of those products.
Second, any bill considered by this committee should be dedicated to minimizing the “free-riders” of the program or, more plainly stated, companies that put batteries into the market but don’t financially participate in collecting and recycling them. We have firsthand experience of this phenomenon: approximately 35% of what we receive for collection are from companies or brands that don’t participate in our program. This burdens the participating companies with our costs of handling the batteries of non-participating companies.
There are two critical strategies to minimize “free-riders”: equipping the department with the tools and authority to enforce the bill; and granting stewardship organizations a very limited but important “private right of action” to seek reimbursement from non-participating companies for the costs it occurs in handling their battery collections and recycling.
There are currently 7 US states that have the authority to enforce compliance to their existing statutes – very, very few of them actually exercise this authority due to budget constraints, departmental priorities and political pressures. Minimally, you should empower the state to impose “do not sell” orders, after all other measures fail, on retailers that sell batteries from non-participating companies.
The “private right of action” is industry’s attempt to regulate itself and to lessen the burden on state departments to enforce. It can only be used by companies or stewardship organizations with approved stewardship plans and only against obligated stewards that don’t participate in an approved plan. It would be used to simply reimburse approved plans for estimated costs it has incurred. Stewardship organization are in fact best equipped to know who operates in the market and have the financial incentive to ensure participation.
Finally, we urge the committee not to burden this effort by including highly prescriptive and needless process requirements into the law and to focus measuring program performance based on outcomes. We have worked with a dozen or so states and provinces in developing plans and monitoring our performance against those plans. We’ve seen states seek to review and approve our media buys for educating consumers. Others insist on where we must set up collection locations even when there isn’t the population to support it.
We don’t think this Committee or Legislature is inclined to over-regulation; nonetheless, we feel obligated to point out some of the vagaries we often face in trying to run both an effective and efficient program. Focusing on process creates inefficiencies that simply are not necessary.
In closing, we would love the opportunity to continue to work with you as this bill progresses through the legislative process. We have the commitment and experience to help. Backed by almost 300 companies that participate in the Call2Recycle® program, we have the resources and support to make this a success.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I would welcome any questions or comments you might have.
Carl E. Smith, LEED® AP
CEO / President
1000 Parkwood Circle, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30339