Partners to recycle used vehicle batteries from remote Alaskan communities

Pledging to support the retrieval and recycling of used vehicle batteries from more than 180 remote communities across Alaska, the U.S.-based nonprofit Responsible Battery Coalition (RBC) and the Solid Waste Alaska Taskforce (SWAT), which oversees the Backhaul Alaska program, have signed an agreement to join forces in managing used vehicle batteries in an environmentally responsible manner.

The initiative brings together the RBC’s 2 Million Battery Challenge and Backhaul Alaska’s education, training and battery retrieval efforts, and it was formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two organizations.

The SWAT Executive Board, a group of representatives from entities that provide solid waste assistance programs throughout rural Alaska, including the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Kawerak and Zender Environmental Health, unanimously endorsed the MOU.

Backhaul Alaska is a statewide program designed to provide centralized shipping and other logistics to remove solid waste and materials from rural, isolated Alaska Native villages and other small communities, including used vehicle and equipment batteries. The program is primarily funded by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The villages and rural communities that make up about one-fifth of Alaska’s population are culturally, geographically and linguistically diverse, but they all face the challenge of waste removal, including used lead-acid batteries,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said.

“The Backhaul Alaska program deserves our support, and I’m pleased to see the Responsible Battery Coalition joining forces with Alaskans. This is good news that will help us recover and recycle the more than 3 million pounds of used vehicle batteries in our remote communities.”

The RBC is a coalition of companies, academics and organizations committed to the responsible management of the batteries of today and tomorrow. RBC created and sponsors the 2 Million Battery Challenge, a program designed to retrieve and recycle 2 million used vehicle batteries.

“By joining forces with Backhaul Alaska, we are able to support the proper management of used vehicle and equipment batteries, and actively help retrieve batteries for recycling from the farthest reaches of Alaska,” said Steve Christensen, executive director of RBC. “This program demonstrates the circular economy of vehicle batteries, while simultaneously further protecting human health and the environment in these remote communities.”

Christensen noted that RBC member-company products “are widely used in all 50 U.S. states, and particularly in remote and isolated communities where batteries are vitally important power sources, so the opportunity to bring additional educational, transportation and recycling resources to Backhaul Alaska makes good sense for everyone.”

Lynn Zender of Zender Environmental Health and Research Group, which administers numerous Backhaul Alaska initiatives, said she was pleased to have SWAT join forces with RBC and expand its ability to support rural Alaskan communities in responsible vehicle battery management.

“There are more than 200 remote Alaska Native and other small communities across Alaska’s vast geography that all rely heavily on hunting and fishing. We need the kind of support RBC can provide in protecting those environments by retrieving used vehicle batteries and transporting them to recycling centers,” Zender said.

She said Backhaul Alaska expects to recover approximately 42,000 pounds of lead-acid batteries this summer from the first 12 of 35 communities participating in the two-year pilot program. That number is expected to increase significantly as the program expands, and some estimates suggest as many as 3.5 million pounds of used vehicle batteries may exist for recovery across remote Alaska.

Zender noted that collecting and removing batteries from remote communities is challenging due to the long winter season and limited or nonexistent road access to many. More than 90 percent of targeted communities have no road access and only limited barge or small plane access.

“We’re pleased with the pilot program progress to date, and confident of a successful backhaul event this summer,” she said. “But a lot of work remains to be done, and the educational and logistical support of the Responsible Battery Coalition will be important in ensuring the long-term success of Backhaul Alaska.”

Christensen said the RBC and Backhaul Alaska have already begun working together to arrange the proper recycling of vehicle batteries collected during this summer’s pilot program.

Responsible Battery Coalition is a coalition of companies, academics and organizations committed to the responsible management of the batteries of today and tomorrow. The Solid Waste Alaska Taskforce is a group of representatives from entities that provide solid waste assistance programs throughout rural Alaska and oversee the Backhaul Alaska (BHA) program.