Batteries Classified as Hazardous Waste
California residents no longer exempt from toxic waste law
February 16, 2006 7:33 PM
If you are among those who chuck used batteries in the trash you may be looking at some hefty fines and/or incarceration.
California’s Universal Waste Rule classifies batteries and many household electronic items as hazardous wastes. The law became effective in 2002, but for the last four years small businesses and households have been exempt.
However, as of Feb. 8, Californians may be prosecuted for throwing away batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, cell phones, and other electronic equipment.
“Electronic waste poses a huge problem globally,” said Raquel Rivera Pinderhughes, director of the urban studies program and a professor of environmental studies at SF State.
While some toxic materials are crushed in our dumps or leaked into our water supply, a huge amount of e-waste is shipped to countries like China, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Pinderhughes said.
According to Pinderhughes, e-waste destroys the environment and exposes poor communities to dangerous metals and chemicals. Citizens of these countries have no protection from the toxic wastes.
“We don’t have producer responsibility,” she said.
Suzanne McNulty, a graduate student in economics and office coordinator for the Environmental Studies program, heads Eco-students, a campus environmental group. Eco-students is setting up battery collection bins in the Cesar Chavez student center, which will be available near the main entrances by March 15. McNulty says their ultimate goal is to have used battery receptacles in every campus department office by Earth Day, which falls on April 17.
“It seems so harmless, but there's a lot of harm packed into those little batteries. It’s so easy to bring them to school, I hope students make the easy and right choice,” McNulty said.
Eco-students has a team of six students working on recycling projects. They are involved in campus composting, clean transportation, and campus greening projects.
Last Earth Day, Eco-students set up a booth and collected old cell phones and batteries. McNulty said students discarded over 12 pounds of batteries and 30 cell phones.
“It was amazing,” McNulty said. “People just filled it up as soon as we opened the table.”
Eco-student member Kate Johnson, a 19-year-old sophomore, is considering switching her major from theater to environmental studies. She said her family has a few years worth of batteries at home.
“We didn’t know where to dispose them,” Johnson said. “This will be great and convenient to have disposal receptacles at school.”
The city of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment has made 60 recycling sites available.
Every Walgreens store in San Francisco, as well as Ikea and most local hardware stores, are participating in the recycling program. Computer equipment can also be brought to Goodwill stores. San Francisco Recycling and Disposal, Inc. operates the public Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility that accepts a variety of chemical and electronic items.
Gloria Chan, the public spokesperson for the Department of the Environment, said residents do not need to worry about state troopers digging through their garbage. The state will focus its enforcement efforts on businesses that dump these materials on a large scale, as well as those that collect electronic waste without proper permits.
This does not mean that the law has no teeth, only that municipalities have ample time to make their communities aware. Chan says penalties for throwing away e-waste could range from compulsory consumer education courses teaching residents how to identify e-waste, and fines of up to $25,000.
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