Introduction And Principal Findings

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Rechargeable nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries possess attributes that make them ideal for powering portable appliances such as cellular and cordless telephones, portable household appliances, and power tools. Since their mass-market introduction in the mid-1980s, they have achieved wide consumer acceptance in all member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The 29 states are listed in the Appendix.

Nonetheless, concern exists that after the useful lives of these batteries has ended, they may become a source of cadmium and nickel that reaches the environment. Recycling Ni-Cd batteries addresses this concern and also conserves valuable natural resources.

However, used Ni-Cd batteries do not trade freely as commodities because the cost of collecting them for recycling exceeds the value of their reclaimed constituents. Faced with this challenge, companies that manufacture and use these batteries have developed and implemented collection programs in several national jurisdictions, and are now working to coordinate these activities internationally.

There is now approximately a decade's experience with these programs, from which a number of lessons can be drawn. This paper does so. Its fundamental findings are as follows:

A successful used Ni-Cd battery collection program requires support from several economic sectors and entities that operate a variety of convenient collection points — retailers, product service centers, municipalities, and institutional generators.

OECD member nations implement strict hazardous waste handling requirements to protect against the worst case environmental damage involving dispersible and acutely toxic chemical wastes. When governments apply these requirements to the collection of used articles that are not acutely toxic, such as Ni-Cd batteries, the result is to saddle the collector with complex legal requirements that create significant potential liability. This discourages the participation of the most necessary collector entities and complicates collection programs.

Used Ni-Cd batteries are physically indistinguishable from new product. As a result, no environmental protection goal is achieved by requiring shipments to comply with hazardous waste transportation requirements. These requirements do cause prohibitive cost increases, however.

There are only a handful of appropriate facilities in the world for reclaiming nickel cadmium batteries, and all are subject to scrutiny and permitting by their national governments. Therefore, identification of an appropriate recycling destination is simple and, so long as collected materials are routed to one of these facilities, the transboundary shipping requirements that make up the OECD "amber" scheme are unnecessary.

Streamlining requirements for Ni-Cd battery collection and transportation is not inconsistent with applying stringent hazardous waste regulatory controls to the facility that recycles them.

Economic relationships among Ni-Cd cell manufacturers, battery manufacturers, manufacturers of Ni-Cd-powered products, and distribution channels are complex and varied. As a result, effective collection programs can most efficiently be implemented when industry groups voluntarily work out arrangements to allow the costs of administering to be shared equitably among all marketplace participants. The most important roles for government to play are to facilitate such voluntary action and encourage widespread participation by all manufacturers and marketers.


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