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3.4.3. Lead-Acid Battery Deposits

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Savings from Economic Incentives


The objective of lead battery deposit systems is to avoid having batteries included in municipal landfills. Deposit legislation is likely to be more effective than command and control regulations, since batteries are small enough to conceal in one's household solid waste or to dump surreptitiously. Thus one would best measure the impact of battery deposit legislation not so much by cost savings but by much increased effectiveness. To produce comparable effectiveness, however, a command and control approach would likely involve substantially higher costs.

Unlike beverage containers, lead-acid batteries are still subject to voluntary deposit systems in most areas. The lead in used batteries has positive economic value for battery makers. Deposit amounts are typically $5-$10. Consumers can obtain rebates by returning a used battery soon, usually 7 to 30 days, after the purchase of a new one.

Despite the presence of numerous voluntary schemes, 11 states have required deposit systems. As shown below, state laws have addressed such questions as the refund period and what portion of unclaimed refunds goes to different parties. The information on state lead battery deposits was supplied by Saskia Mooney and Weinberg Bergeson & Neuman, April 8, 1996, "Summary of State Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Law."
MANDATORY LEAD-ACID BATTERY DEPOSIT SYSTEMS
    State
    Amount
    Unclaimed Refunds
    Refund Period
    Arizona
    $5
    Retailer
    30 days
    Arkansas
    $10
    Retailer
    30 days
    Connecticut
    $5
    Retailer
    30 days
    Idaho
    $5
    Retailer
    30 days
    Maine
    $10
    Retailer
    30 days
    Minnesota
    $5
    Retailer
    30 days
    New York
    $5
    80% State, 20% ret.
    7 days
    Rhode Island
    $5
    Retailer
    30 days
    South Carolina
    $5
    Retailer
    30 days
    Washington
    minimum of $5
    Retailer
    30 days
source: Weinberg, Bergeson and Neuberg As with beverage containers, deposit systems for lead batteries appear likely to have a significant incentive effect by offering motorists payments in return for a used product. As shown in the above figure, the percentage of battery lead recycled has been over 90% since 1988. Smith, Bucklin and Associates

The figure suggests that recycling rates may be positively related to the price of lead. The fall in lead prices beginning in 1991 coincided with a fall in the percentage of battery lead recycled. Lead scrap price data were obtained from Business Cycle Indicators (BCI). BCI monthly prices were averaged to determine annual price.

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