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California’s Battery and E-Waste EPR Programs are Getting an Upgrade

Two bills were recently signed into law in the state of California:
Senate Bill 1215 (SB 1215) and Assembly Bill 2440 (AB 2440). Here's what you need to know.

E-waste typically suggests unwanted keyboards, TVs, headphones — all carelessly chucked into a dumpster. But hidden in this pile of electronic trash is a bigger problem: batteries. These commodities power our devices, and have become ubiquitous in modern life. But they can be dangerous and difficult to dispose of.

Battery-caused fires at recycling plants are becoming a more common occurrence, particularly for lithium ion batteries, which are inherently flammable when exposed to high temperatures, damaged, or mishandled. One source suggests that we could be looking at 300 to 400 fires in a year in Canada and the US. The Environmental Protection Agency has flagged the issue, as an area of concern, not surprising given Americans buy approximately 3 billion batteries every year.

Why does this matter to retailers, manufacturers and waste handlers?

To reduce the number of incidents with improperly handled batteries, two bills were recently signed into law in the state of California: Senate Bill 1215 (SB 1215) and Assembly Bill 2440 (AB 2440). Both bills define the responsibilities for manufacturers and retailers going forward, and work to replace existing battery extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws in the state with a comprehensive, singular battery EPR program. This will ensure more efficient collection, handling, and disposal of used batteries. And hopefully, fewer fires.

Although action from retailers won’t be required until 2026 and state regulators will begin their work in 2025, these are significant changes for responsibly-minded entities and all who are covered under the new laws. And companies should start understanding and planning how to manage their obligations 2023 onward. Forward looking retailers should start to make detailed plans for these practices now. Data and technology solutions that streamline this process will be important. Reporting to demonstrate compliance with the new regulations will also be valuable to show that implementation of new processes is working and the ROI of following the new regulations is measurable.

Retailers especially will want to take precautions to avoid noncompliance, which can incur fines of up to $10,000 per day. Further down the supply chain, consumers will be asked to pay a fee to cover recycling costs on certain new and refurbished items, starting January 2026.

Breaking down the new California assembly and senate bills

Here’s a brief breakdown of each bill, and tips on how retailers can stay ahead of the game to ensure compliance.

CA AB2440: Responsible Battery Recycling Act of 2022

KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • The bill phases out the Cell Phone Recycling Act of 2004 and the Rechargeable Battery Act of 2006, and enacts the Responsible Battery Recycling Act of 2022 in their place.

  • These new guidelines are applicable to “covered batteries,” which are defined as: batteries sold separately from a product; batteries that can be easily removed; and batteries packaged with or in products (but not necessarily embedded in a product).

  • It puts the responsibility on producers (think manufacturers and brands) to ensure that “covered batteries” are being recycled. This can be done by either creating their own stewardship program to collect batteries, or join an existing one. Programs need to be in effect by April 1, 2027.

  • Producers also have to keep track of batteries sold: producers will need to report to CalRecycle all batteries and brands that are sold, distributed, or imported for sale. This must be done by March 15, 2023.

  • In fact, any retailer or online marketplace selling a covered battery must be “in compliance.” A retailer or distributor, therefore, cannot sell, distribute, offer for sale, or import a covered battery in or into the state unless the producer of that covered battery is listed as “in compliance.”

TIPS FOR RETAILERS:

  • Adapt to new battery collection requirements: Retailers of covered batteries with five or more locations in the state need to make all locations serve as permanent collection sites for covered batteries as part of an approved stewardship program.

  • Only sell covered batteries from “compliant” producers:
    • Know which covered battery producers are listed on the Calrecycle “compliant” list, and refrain from selling items from non-compliant producers.
    • Penalties of $10k per day can be levied against retailers caught selling products from noncompliant producers.

CA SB1215

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • The bill amends the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 (EWRA).

  • It expands the definition of “covered electronic device (CED)” in California to include battery embedded products (i.e. products containing batteries that are not easily removed within common household tools). These would typically be smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, video game hardware, and some laptops.

  • It also expands the reporting and recordkeeping requirements for manufacturers.

  • It introduces a consumer fee at the point of sale for all battery-embedded products sold within the state.

TIPS FOR RETAILERS:

  • Understand the new recycling fee requirements for battery-embedded devices:
    • Be prepared to start collecting fees on January 1st, 2026.
    • Retailers may retain 3% of the collected fee as reimbursement for the costs of collecting the fee.
    • Retailers may pay the fee in lieu of the customer and must explicitly note if they have done so on any receipt provided.
  • Understand which devices are battery embedded by the definition, or video display device.

  • Manufacturers must submit an annual notice to retailers identifying the device by brand and model number and informing the retailer as to whether the product is subject to the new recycling fee.

How should retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and brands tackle these changes?

Smarter Sorting’s Product Intelligence Platform can help retailers and brands make sense of these new regulations by simplifying and streamlining the data, and thus staying in compliance.

  • Easy access to data on compliant brands:
    • With the PIP, Smarter Sorting has access to the state list of compliant brands, and can instantly check this list for retailers. Retailers can avoid costly fines and be in compliance.

  • Identify battery embedded devices to levy the proper consumer fees:
    • Because our proprietary, ingredient-level database knows exactly what is in every device (including whether the device has embedded batteries), we can instantly identify items that consumer fees must be applied to, ensuring retailers are collecting sufficient fees for the EPR programs.

  • Eliminate confusion with laws and ensure compliance
    • These laws can be complicated to understand with little insight at the product and brand level. But with PIP, we have all the data tied to product identifiers, so retailers don’t need to hunt around for information or guess. It’s a time-saving, and therefore, money-saving tools.

If you have questions, please reach out to the Smarter Sorting team. You can request a demo here.