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Calif. residents may face extra battery tax

April 5, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Consumers may soon get an extra charge for buying batteries in California as a part of an effort to get people to recycle batteries.One estimate shows 500 million batteries are sold each year in California with most ending up in landfills, and fewer than one percent are recycled.

"Kind of makes me feel a little guilty that I just find a way to get rid of these things and not know what to do with them," said Cindy Thames, a battery consumer.

Lawmakers are looking at a proposal that forces battery manufacturers to create a recycling program, which will inevitably mean tacking on a fee. It's up to the companies to decide how.

"They can put a fee on their product that can be visibly passed onto the consumers, or they can internalize it in the product price, but either way, the consumer is going to pay," said Heidi Sanborn of the California Product Stewardship Council.

The author, San Leandro Sen. Ellen Corbett, says putting the financial burden on battery users is more fair than the current way, which relies on general taxes and garbage rates.

"At great cost to our local cities and to people who pay for garbage pick-up, we deal with it in that way," said Corbett.

Re-chargeable batteries are actually the most dangerous when they're thrown away, but opponents say the majority in use are the less toxic alkaline batteries.

"Single-use batteries do not cause environmental or public health concerns. There is no lead, cadmium; there is no mercury in these batteries," said Gino DiCaro of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association.

Californians tend to be environmentally conscious, so many don't mind paying a recycling fee, but there are those who want to leave it up to each individual.

"No, I think we should just keep doing it on our own. We have enough fees," said Ken Muller, a battery consumer who opposes an extra fee.

Canada has a similar program, and it adds one to 3 cents per battery for recycling. If Californians use 500 million a year, that's up to $15 million out of consumer pockets.