June 12, 2012
King County receives national award for innovative alkaline battery recycling program
Cost-effective local recycling effort better for the environment, saves money
King County’s new alkaline battery recycling program protects the environment, creates a resource from what had previously been considered hazardous waste, and it saves money when compared to other safe disposal options.
Add to that list of accomplishments a national award. The National Association of Counties has presented the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks’ Solid Waste Division (SWD) with an “achievement award” for the program that removes corrosive batteries from the waste stream and gives them second life as steel construction material and other useful products.
“By working closely with regulatory agencies, recycling companies and others, we have developed a program that greatly benefits our environment, saves us money and creates resources from what had previously been considered waste,” said Kevin Kiernan, SWD director. “I am proud of the innovative work our staff have done to bring about this positive result.”
An estimated 1.5 million pounds of household batteries are thrown away every year in King County, including a significant amount of alkaline batteries.
Prior to 2011, alkaline batteries were not collected at household hazardous waste facilities in King County because the cost and environmental impact of shipping batteries across the country for recycling outweighed the benefit of recovering the metals contained in these products.
With the knowledge that the recycling method involves recovering the metal parts of the battery, SWD staff investigated whether batteries could be instead recycled at a local steel mill in Seattle.
There were significant obstacles to implementing this approach, including regulatory barriers and concern by the steel mill regarding acceptance of materials that has traditionally been classified as a hazardous waste. After a lengthy process of evaluating regulatory options and handling procedures, the program obtained approval to recycle the batteries at the mill.
Under the old program, alkaline battery recycling involved shipping collected batteries to California for consolidation and then on to Pennsylvania where they would be recycled in a smelter. This management method is costly and results in adverse environmental impacts from long transportation distances.
Local alkaline battery recycling also makes sense from a cost standpoint. Collecting batteries and shipping them to Pennsylvania costs approximately $75,000 per year. Recycling the batteries in Seattle can be done for nearly $40,000 less per year.
Managing used batteries via the local steel mill also has far more positive environmental impacts than the old program. In the first six months since the County changed its acceptance policy on household hazardous waste to include alkaline batteries, more than 45,000 pounds of used batteries have already been collected – and an estimated 110,000 pounds of alkaline batteries could be collected in 2012.
Alkaline batteries are 80-90 percent metals and carbon, which when melted down is turned into new steel and metal products such as rebar and zinc. The non-metal content is incinerated by the molten metal in the furnace, and any particulate is collected in the steel mill’s highly efficient air pollution control system.
By contrast, batteries placed in a landfill leach manganese and zinc, which then adds to wastewater treatment costs.
Intergovernmental regulatory authorities, including the Washington Department of Ecology and Public Health – Seattle & King County, were also supportive of the program objectives and were willing to work with the steel mill and the County to evaluate ways to implement battery recycling locally.
In addition, being located in a metropolitan area and subject to Washington state’s strict enforcement of emission controls, the air pollution control system at the steel mill is highly efficient. The system pulls one million cubic feet per minute of air from the furnace into a bag house and filtration system. The plant emits no visible emissions other than steam from the water cooling process on the exhaust system.
Through this program, King County residents are now able to recycle their alkaline batteries in a convenient, cost-effective and environmentally sound manner.
A final measure of program success was the ability of the county to orchestrate a change in the statewide designation of alkaline batteries as hazardous waste, based on laboratory testing and other research that greatly simplified management of used alkaline batteries as recyclable materials.
King County Solid Waste