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FB-56565-12
An Environmental History of Batteries and a Culture of Mobility
James Turner, Wellesley College

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FB-56565-12

Extended Producer Responsibility for Single-Use Batteries in the European Union, Canada, and the United States (Article)
Title: Extended Producer Responsibility for Single-Use Batteries in the European Union, Canada, and the United States
Author: James M. Turner
Author: Leah Nugent
Abstract: Extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies have proven effective at raising consumer awareness, expanding waste collection infrastructure, and shifting costs of end-of-life (EOL) management from municipalities to stewardship organizations. Yet, such policies have been less successful in advancing waste management programs that ensure a net environmental benefit. This article analyzes how EPR policies for single-use batteries in the European Union (EU), Canada, and the United States address the environmental costs and benefits of EOL management. Considering these EPR policies is instructive, because single-use batteries have high collection costs and are of relatively low economic value for waste processors. Without deliberate planning, the environmental burdens of collecting and recycling such batteries may exceed the benefits. This article considers how EPR policies for single-use batteries integrate performance requirements such as collection rates, recycling efficiencies, and best available techniques. It argues that for such policies to be effective, they need to be extended to address waste collection practices, the life cycle consequences of EOL management, and the quality of recovered materials. Such strategies are relevant to EPR policies for other products with marginal secondary value, including some textiles, plastics, and other types of electronic waste.
Year: 2015
Primary URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jiec.12351/abstract
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of Industrial Ecology
Publisher: Journal of Industrial Ecology

Following the Pb: An Envirotechnical Approach to Lead-Acid Batteries in the United States,” Environmental History 20, no. 1 (January 2015), 29-56 (Article)
Title: Following the Pb: An Envirotechnical Approach to Lead-Acid Batteries in the United States,” Environmental History 20, no. 1 (January 2015), 29-56
Author: James M. Turner
Abstract: If recycling is a harbinger of a more sustainable society, then the lead-acid battery industry offers an apparent model of success. In the United States, more than 97 percent of lead- acid batteries have been recycled since the early 1990s. But this record of success is not new. The lead industry has been recovering lead from spent batteries on an industrial scale since the 1920s. This article takes a novel approach to explain the historical dynamics of the lead-acid battery industry: in- stead of narrating a linear commodity chain that begins with raw materials extracted from nature and ends with the dis- posal (or recycling) of a consumer product, this essay is orga- nized around a systems-based approach that tracks the stocks and flows of lead through the built environment. How has the structure of the lead-acid battery industry changed over time? Where have the threats to human and environmental health emerged in the system? How has the system and its risks been affected by occupational health, environmental, and trade policies? Considering the environmental history of lead-acid batteries reveals a complex and volatile industry shaped by dramatic swings in recycling rates historically. Ironically, the recycling rate dropped sharply as new occupa- tional health and environmental policies came into force in the 1980s. Recycling rates rose in the 1990s as the industry stabilized and consolidated. More recently, trade policies and tightening Environmental Protection Agency regulations have pushed lead-acid recycling activities abroad with conse- quences for human and environmental health that belie any straightforward claims about environmental sustainability.
Year: 2015
Primary URL: http://envhis.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/1/29.short
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Environmental History
Publisher: Environmental History

Batteries and Environmental Sustainability (Web Resources)
Title: Batteries and Environmental Sustainability
Author: James M. Turner
Abstract: Batteries are becoming evermore important to the modern world, from electric cars to renewable energy storage. This website explores what batteries, past and present, can teach us about environmental sustainability.
Year: 2016
Primary URL: http://www.batteriesandsustainability.org

Closing the Circle: An Environmental History of Lead-Acid Batteries (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Closing the Circle: An Environmental History of Lead-Acid Batteries
Author: James M. Turner
Abstract: If recycling is a harbinger of a more sustainable society, then the lead-acid battery industry offers an apparent model of success. In the United States, more than 95 percent of lead-acid batteries are recycled. The battery industry describes this “closed loop” as the “environmental success story of our time.” But there is a catch: this is not actually new. The lead industry has been recovering lead from spent batteries on an industrial scale since the 1920s. This presentation will consider how this system has evolved historically: How have the stocks and flows of lead changed over time? Where have the greatest threats to human and environmental health emerged? How has the lead-acid battery system and those risks been affected by environmental policy, changes in scientific assessments related to the risks of lead exposure, and the activism of national and community-based organizations? Considering the environmental history of lead-acid batteries reveals a complex and volatile industry shaped by dramatic swings in recycling rates historically, with disproportionate impacts on specific communities. More recently, tightening EPA regulations have pushed lead-acid recycling activities abroad, with consequences for human and environmental health that belie any simplistic claims about “environmental success.”
Date: 6/10/16
Conference Name: Making Class Work, SUNY Stonybrook

Recycling Batteries in a Throw-away Society (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: Recycling Batteries in a Throw-away Society
Author: James M. Turner
Abstract: In 2011, the U.S. alkaline battery industry made a surprising announcement: it aimed to launch a national program to recycle the billions of AA, AAA, 9-volt, and other alkaline batteries in the United States. It was a surprising turnabout for an industry that as late as 2000 had publicly opposed any efforts to promote recycling. To understand this reversal requires engaging with two interrelated narratives. First, is the longer history of the battery industry’s efforts to detoxify batteries, specifically by removing mercury from alkaline cells. Indeed, as late as the 1980s, batteries accounted for .005% of the municipal waste stream by weight, but approximately 50% of mercury waste. Getting the mercury out of batteries was a significant environmental achievement for the industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s in response to new environmental policies and advances in hydrometallurgical technology (which entailed new environmental costs). Second, a new push for product stewardship, justified by life-cycle analyses, sparked a renewed push for recycling in the 2000s, first in Europe and then the United States. This marked a change, because since the early 1990s, the industry had publicly argued against recycling batteries, since they were non-toxic. To understand the significance of this turn toward battery recycling requires engaging with the history of existing mining, waste, and recycling infrastructure: How do existing systems of waste management and metals processing in Europe and the U.S. affect the efficiency of battery recycling? Why has a mining industry that has proven so adept at extracting a wide array of minerals from ever lower-grade ore, struggled to extract those same metals from the stream of spent batteries? This paper deploys an envirotechnical approach -- drawing on environmental history and history of technology -- to consider the historical intersection of technology, policy, environment, and economy to answer these questions
Date: 4/2/16
Conference Name: American Society for Environmental History


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