Going Green this Holiday? Check “Naughty List” for Batteries

With electronic devices topping the list of Holiday gift ideas for the umpteenth year in a row, battery sales are at their peak and many “green” buyers are wondering, which brand is best for the planet?

The familiar label, “Batteries Not Included” translates to the average buyer as, “Grab the cheapest pack of batteries that fit,” but a number of considerations do impact the environment, and some brands do a better job than others to ensure that their products will not end up in landfills.

Any device that uses AA or AAA batteries – some digital cameras, gaming accessories, and remote controls – can use either a rechargeable or single-use battery. Which is better for the environment? For a number of reasons, rechargeable batteries hold the green advantage. First, an obvious benefit is that you’ll use them over and over – almost anything that is designed to be used just once and then thrown “away” is going to be bad for the planet. Next, when those rechargeable batteries finally do stop working, there are recycling programs available to keep them out of landfills. Many retailers such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Staples will take them back for recycling. This is possible because of their partnership with battery manufacturers, who actually foot the bill for rechargeable battery recycling to save local taxpayers money. Rechargeable batteries do contain more toxic materials –such as cadmium or lithium—  than their single-use counterparts, so it’s extremely important to recycle them responsibly.

Call 2 Recycle accepts rechargeable batteries for recycling funded by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation

Call 2 Recycle accepts rechargeable batteries for recycling funded by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation

Single-use, or “disposable” batteries no longer contain the most toxic materials, but they do contain recyclable metals, zinc and alkaline. Because there is no widespread, convenient recycling program in the U.S., single-use batteries are wasted into the landfills by the billions each year. These metals can still be hazardous when they leach into underground water sources, and all this waste costs ratepayers millions of dollars. Although single-use batteries can be recycled, battery manufacturers have not yet established the same kind of recycling program they have in place for rechargeable batteries. This is mainly due to just one company: Rayovac.

In 2011, companies such as Energizer, Duracell and Panasonic agreed to form an initiative to fund single-use battery recycling. But Rayovac withdrew and brought the efforts to a halt. The “Corporation for Battery Recycling” or CBR would have provided the same convenient recycling for single-use batteries that now exists for rechargeables, if Rayovac had not pulled out. Here in the U.S., Rayovac claims that throwing batteries in the trash to be landfilled or incinerated poses no threat to the environment. In Europe and Canada, however, Rayovac does participate in manufacturer-based recycling and hypocritically boasts its eco-consciousness. Holiday shoppers in those other countries don’t have to worry about what to do with their batteries. Bah humbug.

This holiday season, if you are shopping for gadgets, do the environment a favor and remember: “Rayovac – Recycling Not Included.”

Social media meme created by Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Social media meme created by Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Please, take a moment to let Rayovac’s CEO know that you are keeping their environmental record in mind when shopping for batteries this holiday buying season, and that if they expect responsible consumers to spend money with them, they need to be responsible with their products.  Email Dave Lumley, CEO of Rayovac’s parent company Spectrum Brands at David.Lumley@spectrumbrands.com, and tell him that you want Rayovac to offer recycling, or you’ll take your business elsewhere!

Help spread this fun image and let people know about how naughty Rayovac has been when it comes to the environment and recycling.  Please, share it on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and let your friends and allies know: Rayovac needs to embrace—not spurn—battery recycling for its U.S. customers!

Cities, Countries Throughout the World Ban Plastic Bags

Brownsville was the first city in Texas to ban plastic bags, and now Austin is considering following suit. But we’re hardly alone! From a recent CNN report:

Mexico City’s thousands of stores went green Wednesday, as amended ordinances on solid waste now outlaw businesses from giving out thin plastic bags that are not biodegradable. Bans and other restrictions on plastic bags are in place in several countries. China has adopted a strict limit, reducing litter and eliminating the use of 40 billion bags, the World Watch Institute said, citing government estimates. In Tanzania, selling the bags carries a maximum six-month jail sentence and a fine of 1.5 million shilling ($1,137). Mumbai, India, outlawed the bags in 2000 and cities in Australia, Italy, South Africa and Taiwan have imposed bans or surcharges. Ireland reported cutting use of the bags by 90 percent after imposing a fee on each one.

So there’s a growing consensus: plastic bags need to go. California is considering a statewide ban, and it wouldn’t be California without a great video.

Plastic, Disposable UT Tower?

Even one of Austin’s best and brightest institutions is capable of a very bad idea:

More from Austin Business Journal:

“A group of University of Texas alum and environmental activists aren’t happy about plans to market H2Orange, purified water in plastic bottles shaped like UT’s iconic tower. The group is gathering July 23 at UT’s West Campus Mall on Guadalupe Street to protest the plan, saying it undermines Austin’s Zero Waste goal and the campus’ sustainability policy. Instead of using disposable containers, the group is hoping the venture will market ‘a refillable bottle with a UT logo’ as a potential alternative to raising scholarship funds, the group said.”

There are so many ecological and economic problems with bottled water, one hardly knows where to start. Plastic pollution is a serious threat to our ecosystem and although the bottles may be recyclable, there is no guarantee they won’t end up in landfills, incinerators and waterways. In fact, the “great Pacific garbage patch” is larger than Texas and growing every day. And in case you haven’t forgotten about the BP spill: 10% of domestic oil production is used to make plastic products. A great primer is the Story of Bottled Water — check it out!

Spotlight: pharmacuetical waste

Don’t flush or trash your old pills, unless you want them to end up in our drinking water! In 2008, an AP investigation found that “A vast array of pharmaceuticals – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones – have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.” Not good!

We’d like to see Producer TakeBack programs in place that would make it easy for anyone to return their unused pharmaceuticals. And we’re not the only ones. From the Product Policy Institute:

“The National Association of Counties (NACo), the country’s largest local government organization, has unanimously adopted a policy supporting producer responsibility for unwanted medicines. The expense of taking back unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs would be handled by the pharmaceutical industry, without relying on state or local government funding.”

This won’t be a simple solution; drug enforcement laws can be quite complicated when it comes to recovering old pills. But the principal that the manufacturers should be responsible for their waste should still apply.

In some states and cities, manufacturers are teaming up with local pharmacies and law enforcement agencies to provide free, convenient recycling locations — usually at the nearest drugstore. We’re already seeing the beginnings of such a system in Texas. Here’s a current map of local participating drugstores. Recycle away!

“Going Green” spotlights Texas Campaign for the Environment

Texas Campaign for the Environment was featured in this week’s segment of Going Green with Yolanda Green. Watch and share, please!

This is a terrific portrayal of TCE, the work we do and just a few of our allies. Major kudos to Yolanda and the Going Green team for creating such a comprehensive report. Also, thanks are due to Green Bank for sponsoring several Going Green segments and Citizens’ Environmental Coalition for suggesting TCE for this week’s show. And thanks to TCE volunteer Chris Patterson who helped collect the pictures and video!

Getting to Zero Waste…or Darn Close

Graphic: GrassRoots Recycling Network

Many believe that trash is an inevitable byproduct of modernity, as if humankind is forever doomed to bury or burn our waste because, with apologies to 90s pop sensation The Rembrandts, “That’s just the way it is, baby.” Fortunately, the way it is doesn’t necessarily equal the way it must be. In fact, you can participate in a number of exciting initiatives that currently work to bring us to Zero Waste…or darn close.

As a concept, Zero Waste embraces a “cradle-to-cradle” system, in which the products we make, sell and purchase are used to make new products rather than dumped in a landfill or burned in an incinerator. Pragmatically, Zero Waste is a set of concrete practices that mirrors nature in an effort to conserve resources, reduce trash, increase reuse and recycling, promote durability and preserve wealth. Sounds ambitious, right? Well, yes and no, especially in light of the ramifications associated with maintaining the status quo.

First, consider our current waste(ful) scheme: we extract natural resources from the earth, manufacture those resources into consumer products, ship those products all over the world in planes and boats and trucks, then buy and use them until they become obsolete and finally toss them in the garbage. This is a linear, “cradle-to-grave” approach: extract-manufacture-distribute-consume-dispose…repeat. Our present waste management regime promotes the continuous extraction of limited resources to perpetuate an unsustainable cycle. For a terrific, illustrative video on unsustainable production, see the Story of Stuff.

Second, consider the economic value of the resources that we constantly bury in the ground after short-term use: the precious metals in our trashed electronics, the easily remanufactured textiles in our clothes and furniture, the wood in our millions of tons of discarded paper—all of these have value as potential raw materials—simply disappearing into a monetary sinkhole. Garbage dump becomes money pit. Every ton of reusable materials that end up in a landfill leads to ever-more costly (both economically and environmentally) mining, logging and drilling.

Now consider a sustainable alternative, one in which products and the value (again, economically and environmentally) residing in the resources consumed to create them are not buried or burned, but instead become an entirely new, higher quality product. This is the core of Zero Waste: every material used in the production cycle functions as feedstock, a “nutrient” used to make new products. In their seminal work, Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough and Michael Braungart describe “technical nutrients” that can be utilized over and over in manufacturing processes without suffering any deterioration in quality and “biological nutrients,” organic matter which breaks down in the environment to feed living organisms and perpetuate life. Nature functions this way: the byproducts of an oak tree or a tree frog re-enter the environment to help new trees or frogs or something entirely different grow until their byproducts re-enter the system. A cycle of living, a closed loop. Zero Waste takes this bio- and ecological reality and applies it to contemporary culture.

Several fundamental principles guide Zero Waste practices; in turn, the integration of several such practices constitute a Zero Waste Plan. Companies or government entities that implement a Zero Waste Plan commit to: 1) “cradle-to-cradle” design and materials use; 2) “producer takeback” policies, in which manufacturers assume responsibility for the end-of-life care of their products; and 3) “triple bottom-line” accounting, which considers not only the economic impacts of an action but also the environmental and ethical costs of a particular manufacturing process or product design.

Right now, many individuals, cities, companies and governments are beginning to formulate and implement comprehensive Zero Waste Plans into their local and regional solid waste management systems. In fact, the entire nation of New Zealand implemented precisely this type of plan in July of this year. Diverse companies ranging from Fetzer Wine to Subaru to Xerox already divert more than 90% of their waste.

On a local level, several communities already ramped up efforts reduce waste. Austin became the first city in Texas to adopt a formal Zero Waste Plan. Dallas has expanded its single-stream recycling program citywide, resulting in huge gains in recovered material. Houston has launched an yard/tree waste mulching program that is expected to save he city $2 million each year. On the corporate front, one Toyota and GM joint manufacturing plant convinced its parts suppliers to switch from cardboard to reusable shipping containers—this step alone saves the companies an estimated $20 million a year.

At home, you can do your part to move toward Zero (or darn close). Consume less wasteful packaging by purchasing products that contain post-consumer recycled content. Compost your food and yard waste in the back yard. When remodeling, use sustainably harvested materials such as bamboo flooring and recycled glass counter-tops or tile. If you’re in the market for a new home, you can get to Zero Waste by installing several amenities such as solar or tankless water heaters, rainwater-fed washing machines, LED lighting and metal roofing. In Dallas, one eco-friendly couple is blogging their trials and tribulations with green design as they build a new home—the Labron House—from the ground up. Check out their progress at http://blog.greenlabron.com.

Jeffrey Jacoby, Staff Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment
Article originally published in September 2009 issue of House & Home Magazine