California's state capitol building in Sacramento.

California state legislators are considering a battery stewardship bill. | Steve Heap/Shutterstock

This story has been corrected.

A California bill would create an extended producer responsibility program for batteries and battery-embedded products.

Assembly Bill 2440, known as the Responsible Battery Recycling Act of 2022, would repeal the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Act of 2006, which requires retailers to collect used rechargeable batteries, and the Cell Phone Recycling Act of 2004, which requires retailers have a take-back system for used cell phones.

If passed, the new legislation would require producers to establish a stewardship program for “the collection and recycling of covered batteries and covered battery-embedded products” that would allow residents to turn batteries in for free. The bill does not include single-use batteries that weigh more than 2 kilograms, rechargeable batteries that weigh more than 5 kilograms, lead-acid batteries or other batteries in motor vehicles. Batteries in motorized scooters, skateboards and hoverboards, however, would be covered.

California lawmakers are looking at further regulating battery recycling particularly because of the fire danger presented by improperly discarded scrap batteries that still contain ample energy. When disposed of in garbage and recycling bins, lithium-ion batteries can spark fires in trucks and at recycling and disposal facilities.

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) has been discussing ways to better address recycling batteries, including by regulating labeling.

Further complicating matters is the fact that the design of many small electronics devices makes battery removal difficult or even dangerous. Under AB 2440, a covered battery-embedded product is any device that has a battery or battery pack that is not designed to be removed by the consumer. The bill would exempt medical devices.

Producers could either set up collection programs individually or through a stewardship organization, according to the bill text, and would be responsible for fully funding training, collection and disposal. They would also need to run consumer education programs.

The bill requires a stewardship organization or producer to have a plan by Dec. 31, 2025. The older acts would be inoperative as of Sept. 30, 2026, and repealed on Jan. 1, 2027.

Sen. Josh Newman and Rep. Jacqui Irwin introduced the identical bills Senate Bill 1215 and AB 2440, respectively. On April 25, AB 2440 was passed by the Natural Resources Committee and sent to the Committee on Appropriations. It is set for a May 11 hearing.

On April 20, SB 1215 passed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee and moved to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Parallel to existing e-scrap program

California has the oldest regulated e-scrap recycling program in the U.S., charging consumers fees at the point of sale to fund it. State government provides payments to e-scrap companies that collect and recycle covered electronics. After a recent expansion, the program covers CRT TVs and monitors, LCD TVs and laptops, plasma TVs (excluding plasma projection TVs), OLED display devices (starting July 1, 2022), LCD smart displays, LCD tablets and portable DVD players.

AB 2440 would create a new EPR program for batteries, rather than folding batteries into the existing e-scrap program, which is dedicated to devices with screens and that contain hazardous materials.

Other battery EPR bills have failed to make it to the governor’s desk in the past.

According to a state analysis, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, the California Retailers Association, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and the Toy Industry Association are opposed to SB 1215 and AB 2440.

The CTA also opposed a California labeling bill that was signed into law in 2021, saying it could harm battery and e-scrap recycling rates.

Listed supporters include California Resource Recovery Association, California Waste Haulers Council, multiple cities, the League of California Cities, several sanitization districts, Republic Services, Waste Management and Zero Waste Sonoma, among many others.

This story has been corrected to note that the California e-scrap program will include OLED display devices starting July 1, 2022. Because of an editing error, the story previously indicated the devices were currently included in the program.

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