Sacramento (Calif.) Bee
January 23, 2006


Rachel's summary: California wants to keep toxic consumer products out
of the trash, including batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, mercury
thermostats and various electronic devices, including printers,
videocassette recorders, telephones, radios and microwave ovens. It's a

Few people seem to be charged up over battery disposal as new
hazardous waste rules approach.

By Jim Sanders

For every Californian who throws household batteries into the family
trash, here's some bad news: You'll soon be breaking state law.

Beginning Feb. 9, consumers won't be able to dispose of household
batteries in the comfort of their own homes.

You'll need to take them somewhere -- to a household hazardous waste
facility, a universal waste handler or an authorized recycling center.

Number, location and convenience of such sites vary from county to

Communities have had four years to prepare for the transition -- but
the news, apparently, hasn't gotten through.

Not one of six people interviewed randomly near Sacramento's Downtown
Plaza was aware of the pending prohibition.

Several said they doubt that compliance will be widespread.

Robert Christensen, 67, is certain that many people -- choosing
comfort over propriety -- will continue dumping batteries into
household bins.

"Sure, or on the street," he said.

Roger Sargent, 29, said that for the past two years he has collected
his household batteries in a drawer. But most people don't, he said.

"It's the American way. Simple. Throw it in the trash and let someone
else deal with it," Sargent said.

But Cletus Boyce, 42, applauded the pending prohibition.

"I think it's a great idea, as long as I have a way to do it -- that's
always been my issue," Boyce said. "I don't have a lot of time."

State regulators say there won't be much residential enforcement,
though they have the ability to fine violators.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control has no plans to go door-to-
door, scavenging through garbage bins for batteries, spokesman Ron
Baker said.

Most Californians are likely to abide by the ban voluntarily, he said.

"If you ask them to do something, provide them with a way to do it,
and tell them where to go to do it, they do it," Baker said. "They

The ban targets virtually every kind of household battery, used to
operate devices ranging from toys to radios to hearing aids -- AA,
AAA, C cells, D cells and button batteries.

Fluorescent light bulbs and mercury thermostats also are covered by
the disposal ban, along with various electronic devices, including
printers, videocassette recorders, telephones, radios and microwave

California identified such products as household hazardous wastes
several years ago, but households and small businesses were excluded
from the crackdown until Feb. 9.

The goal is to increase recycling and to reduce the quantity of
potentially hazardous materials entering local landfills.

Batteries, depending on the type, contain alkaline, carbon zinc,
lithium and mercuric-oxide. They can corrode and leak chemicals into

Californians use more than 500 million batteries a year and safely
dispose of less than 1 percent of them, according to a 2001 report by
the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said
most communities do not yet have an extensive, convenient collection
system for household hazardous waste.

But Murray applauds the pending disposal restrictions nonetheless.

"It's a good thing for California, because if it wasn't for the
disposal ban, we wouldn't be talking about this issue," he said.

"The way you get businesses and government to take seriously the need
to build a recycling system is to give them a deadline," added Bill
Magavern of the Sierra Club.

Murray is pushing for legislation to provide more revenue and
incentive for recycling -- charging a redemption fee on batteries, for
example, much like the state does now on cans and bottles.

Past legislation to accommodate household hazardous waste has had
mixed results.

Since 2003, lawmakers have passed bills to impose a recycling fee on
new televisions and computer screens; and to require retailers of
rechargeable batteries and cellular phones to collect and recycle such

But the Legislature killed proposals to require every seller of
household batteries to accept them back once used, and to impose a
variable fee on fluorescent lamps, with revenues used to boost
recycling and to encourage manufacturers to use less mercury.

Sacramento-area solid waste officials say it is unlikely any time soon
that household batteries or fluorescent lamps will be collected like
bottles, cans and newspapers in family bins.

Curbside collection of household hazardous wastes would be costly and
time-consuming, and recycling revenues would not sustain it, officials

"Additionally, putting out hazardous waste at the curb exposes them to
bad weather conditions -- and the whole point of not disposing of them
in the landfill is to prevent their entry into surface waters," said
Jennifer Caldwell, Yolo County waste reduction coordinator.

The Western Placer Waste Management Authority, which services a large
chunk of Placer County, sends the garbage it collects through conveyor
belts and uses magnets to separate batteries from other household

Consumers typically can drop off their used batteries and other
household wastes at a local disposal facility in each community. Most,
if not all, communities also offer subsidiary collection services,
such as neighborhood cleanups and periodic drop-off points, or they
arrange for battery bins to be placed at various government buildings
or commercial stores.

Hollywood Hardware in West Sacramento is one of a sprinkling of stores
regionwide that participates in a public-private program: It accepts
used batteries; the city hauls them away.

Manager Matt Flynn said two or three customers a day bring batteries.

"There are just two 5-gallon buckets sitting there. It's no hassle to
us," he said.

The Bee's Jim Sanders can be reached at (916) 326-5538 or

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