AWA wins mercury battery exemption

The American Watch Association (AWA) has won an important exemption for its members from a Connecticut law that requires consumer goods containing mercury be labeled as such. Instead of affixing labels to watches, packaging, and instruction manuals, AWA member companies now can inform consumers that some watch batteries contain mercury via an AWA-established Web site (www.watchbatteryrecycle.org).

“Consumers will receive full disclosure without confusing labels interfering with retailers making the sale,” said Walter Fischer, AWA chairman and chairman of Rolex Watch USA.

The exemption applies only to AWA members.Other watch companies must still label their watch products or obtain their own exemptions.

Connecticut is the first and, so far, only state regulating use of mercury in consumer products. However, 25 states currently are considering mercury legislation. “Sooner or later, Connecticut’s statute will be repeated in other states, and we hope to win the same exemptions there,” said AWA executive director Toby Collado. Connecticut officials have cited the watch industry’s responsible treatment of batteries as an example that might be emulated by other industries.

The AWA is working closely with Jewelers of America and state jewelers’ associations to implement the new Connecticut-approved program. On the AWA Web site and those of the jewelry associations, AWA is posting an explanation that mercury is used in button cell batteries to prevent a “gassing” phenomenon that occurs during the electrolytic process which would otherwise corrode the battery and damage the watch. Retailers are encouraged to download the information and have it printed on cards for customers.

“The AWA and JA information cards will allay potential consumer worries and, at the same time, provide better information to customers than terse ‘contains mercury, dispose of properly’ warnings,’” said Collado. Retailers have “every incentive to use the cards,” he added, because they also encourage consumers to return for battery replacements.

This is the third exemption AWA has won for its members from the state of Connecticut. One was a total exemption from labeling on watches themselves and confining labeling to packaging and the instruction manual. The other exempts them from a state requirement to set up used-battery collection/recycling programs. The AWA showed that the watch and jewelry industry already recycles the great majority of spent batteries.

Watches with quartz modules—which are most watches sold—use silver oxide button cells for long life. Retailers and watch companies collect these used batteries and sell them to waste management companies, which reimburse them for the silver content. In addition, groups like JA and the American Watchmakers and Clockmakers Association encourage members to turn in batteries for recycling.