A response to the RBRC's comments regarding "Batteries not Included"
From the February/March 1999 issue - LETTERS

by Usman Valiante

  1. The RBRC is non-profit corporation established in 1994 (not 1996). We have a twofold mission: to educate consumers on the importance of Ni-Cd battery recycling and to serve as the leader in the environmentally safe collection, transportation and recycling of rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries.

  2. A valid correction - the RBRC was established in 1994. However it was not until June of 1996 that major retailers were solicited to join the program. Based upon this correction, the RBRC program has been in operation for 4.5 years in the U.S. (not 2.5 years as claimed by the article). This correction only serves to highlight that Ni-Cd battery recovery rates are even lower than expected given that the program has operated for five years (rather than only three).

  3. At no time has the US trade association representing the rechargeable power industry, PRBA (Portable Rechargeable Battery Association), operated in Canada.

  4. The article does not state nor insinuate that the PRBA has ever operated in Canada. The article asserts only that the PRBA's function as described in the U.S. is also fulfilled by the RBRC in Canada.

  5. The RBRC's Ni-Cd battery collection and recycling program is different in the United States than in Canada, with the former being more comprehensive in collection options. The RBRC is working in co-operation with federal and provincial governments to adjust the current hazardous waste manifesting requirements to be able to expand the collection options from the current retail and licensee program to community, business and public agency collection plans.

  6. It is not clear what point in the article is being refuted or clarified by this comment. Given the length of time in which the PRBA and RBRC have been operating in the U.S. it is not surprising that the programs are different if not, "more comprehensive in collection options" (whatever that means).

    As clarification it should be noted that in the U.S. the federal battery law introduced in May of 1996 effectively achieved what the RBRC says that it is still working on - "to adjust the current hazardous waste manifesting requirements." Furthermore, in his article in State Recycling Laws Update of Mr. Robert Guyer (the chief lobbyist for the RBRC in the U.S.) gave no indication that U.S. hazardous waste manifesting rules continue to be a barrier to Ni-Cd battery recycling. As mentioned in the article, many U.S. businesses and public agencies already have their batteries collected either for containment in a hazardous waste landfill or for recycling. The point of the article is that most of the RBRC batteries already originate from these sectors and not from the retail sector (whose customers are the primary generators of used Ni-Cd batteries).

  7. In addition to the retail partners Canadian Tire, RadioShack, Zellers, Blacks Photography, Astral Photo Images and Battery Plus, participating retailers include:

  8. Authorized Motorola Dealers, Makita Service Centres, Personal Edge and Centre de Rasoir. In total, the RBRC program is available through over 3,000 (not 2,000) retail outlets throughout Canada. In total, over 25,000 retail outlets throughout Canada and the United States are supporting the RBRC recycling program.

    All numbers and lists of participating retailers were drawn from the RBRC web site as cited below. The Canadian program is described as follows:

    "Patterned after a similar program developed in the United States that has proved to be an enormous success since it began, RBRC expects to see even better results in Canada, where its affiliated business partners include a combined total of more than 1,900 retail outlets of Canadian Tire, RadioShack, Zellers, Blacks Photography, Astral Photo Images, and Battery Plus."

    Quoted from the RBRC Web Page (http://www.rbrc.com/Ottawa.htm) as CREATED: Dec. 09, 1996 and MODIFIED: Feb 3, 1997

    Further embellishments of the numbers in the article provide no additional information regarding the efficacy of the RBRC's battery recovery program.

  9. The RBRC program has resulted in the diversion and recycling of over 14 million pounds of Ni-Cd batteries rather than being thrown in landfills in the past 4 years. In 19996, RBRC's recycling rate was 15%. In 1997, our program recorded a + 46% growth, realizing a 22% recycling rate.

  10. In the 1998 year end edition State Recycling Laws Update Jefferson C. Bagby an associate of Mr. Robert Guyer (the chief lobbyist for the RBRC in the U.S.) reported the following:

    "The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) reports that for 1997 it recycled 22% of the small sealed rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries in the U.S. This is a 7% increase over the 1996 recycling rate of 15%."

    Mr. Kelly repeats the numbers I quoted from State Recycling Laws but converts absolute change (7%) to a growth rate (46%) a twist of the numbers. How does this correct or improve what I wrote?

    Furthermore, while 14 million pounds of Ni-Cd may have been recycled over 4 years, it is important to note that the bulk of these batteries were already being managed by the ICI sector and that little of that stream represents new diversion away from the municipal waste stream. It seems that all the RBRC did was re-channel an existing flow of recovered batteries through its own program.

  11. The RBRC program is committed to recycling (not landfilling) the Ni-Cd batteries collected through our efforts. We have provided stringent instructions to supply all our supplies - which are reinforced through a rigorous audit process - to ensure our recycling mission is achieved. The efforts our battery recycler - Inmetco - have been recognized by many external organizations for their recyling achievements. In fact, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator, James Matthews, stated after an inspection of INMETCO that "none of the by-products of this facility are sent to landfills."

  12. I take the RBRC's commitment to recycling Ni-Cd batteries at face value. However, its comments regarding Ontario's proposed MCN regulation speak for themselves. I find it interesting that Mr. Kelly did not choose to "clarify" either the RBRC's comments to the MOE as reproduced in the article, or my interpretation of their comments.

    The article does not state nor insinuate that any batteries sent to INMETCO are sent to landfill. Rather it points out that given the costs of shipping batteries from Ontario to INMETCO and the RBRC's own comments in this regard, that (if the RBRC had its own way) it is likely that Ni-Cd batteries collected in Ontario would never make it to INMETCO.

  13. Our program has been designed to maximize efficiencies in collection transportation and recycling efforts. Wherever possible, we encourage our collection sites to ship directly to INMETCO.

  14. I'm not sure what point in the article is being refuted or corrected here.

  15. Similar to other waste streams, the IC&I sector represents a substantial source for used Ni-Cds. RBRC spends considerable effort to ensure that collection results from IC&I sources are maximized. Added to this, the retail collection program was created to capture the Ni-Cds from consumers. Our market research indicated that it was logical to put collection containers as retail consumers were bringing their used Ni-Cds with them to the store to ensure correct purchase of replacements. RBRC has devoted considerable effort to implement retail staff training programs to ensure we maximize the collection of used Ni-Cd batteries from retail.

  16. I have no information to counter the claim that the return-to-retail program was the result of market research. However, with the State of Minnesota requiring a 90% Ni-Cd battery recovery rate, (unachieved to this date) I would imagine it would be difficult to convince state legislators of the seriousness of the program without a return-to-retail program component.

    The contention that, "RBRC has devoted considerable effort to implement retail staff training programs to ensure we maximize the collection of used Ni-Cd batteries from retail" is a non-sequitur. The real issue is how to get consumers to return batteries to retailers in the first place. Where is the incentive? How does staff training have any significant impact on consumer return rates of Ni-Cd batteries?

  17. Again the efficiency sake, the RBRC was created to help our over 25 member companies to implement an effective recyling program collectively rather than through individual efforts. Our members evaluate our efforts based on collection rates. We are expected to deliver high collection rate results (not avoid them). I do not believe that "relatively little effort" equated to:
    • convincing 50 states, 10 provinces and 2 territories to support the RBRC recycling program;
    • establish over 25,000 retail collection sites in the United States and Canada;
    • signing up over 285 companies in the rechargeable power industry to pay a license fee for the recycling of the Ni-Cds which they sell to the United States and Canada;
    • creating the infrastructure to support collection efforts from the IC&I sector as well as communities and public agencies; and
    • establish a communication program which achieved over 100 million media impressions in 1998 through TV, Radio and Print efforts in addition to supporting an information hotline (1-800-8 BATTERY) and website (www.rbrc.com).
For lack of better nomenclature I am forced to describe these comments as public relations puffery. None of the recovery data in the article were refuted by Mr. Kim Kelly. These data indicate that recovery rates are low (and out of compliance with state recycling targets for Ni-Cd batteries). Where are the data substantiating Mr. Kelly's contention regarding high collection rates?

I would suggest that the remainder of Mr. Kelly's points outline the intense effort required to avoid establishing an effective (and thereby a more costly and intrusive) program. Convincing 50 States, 10 provinces and 2 territories means that the RBRC system is now entrenched and that it is has become difficult if not impossible for those governments to either monitor or criticize programs in which they have invested heavy political capital.

by Usman Valiante