The year: 1994. The world wide web was born, Yahoo! and Amazon launched, the first Sony PlayStation hit the market and Forrest Gump topped the box office list. It proved a year of innovation, with a sharp focus on technology and engaging the masses. This theme of innovation spurred five leading battery manufacturers to form what would be an industry leading organization to drive battery recycling awareness – Call2Recycle, Inc. Fast forward 25 years and while many factors have changed, the organization’s focus on consumer engagement and sustainability remains the same.
Seated in Safety
The last two and a half decades have dramatically impacted the recycling landscape, including battery recycling. Innate challenges – some old and new – have played a big role along the way.
To understand the journey, let’s start at the beginning.
Founded in March of 1994 as the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (now Call2Recycle, Inc.), the organization centered on battery stewardship to align with initial consumer battery recycling efforts. A key organizational goal was to keep cadmium out of the waste stream in support of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The 1996 Mercury Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act mitigated the threat of mercury and other 90s legislation banned the disposal of nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) and small sealed lead acid (SSLA) batteries – underscoring the ever-present theme of responsible end-of-life battery management.
With the market shift to lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries, new opportunities and challenges followed. A lighter and more powerful battery, incidents started to pop-up across the globe tied to lithium ion battery management. In line with this change and keeping safety top of mind, Call2Recycle® introduced a patent-pending flame-retardant box liner to provide an extra layer of safety to those individuals involved in the battery recycling process.
And that group of individuals has grown over the years.
Historically, battery handling and management was siloed to the municipal and waste management industry. As electronics have become more portable and, in many instances, embedded, the responsibility is now expanding to consumers in terms of proper use and safe disposal of such products. The key to success: consumer education and awareness.
The Attention Factor
Consumer products like laptops, tablets, drones and power tools typically translate to entertainment and fun. But in instances where batteries that power these products are improperly managed, safety risks to people and property grow exponentially. So how do you engage consumers to protect those involved in the battery recycling journey? By creating and sharing attention-grabbing resources, which is an active practice by many battery manufacturers and take-back organizations.
These types of consumer education campaigns are a cornerstone of the Call2Recycle program. Being able to share consistent steps and guidance on the safe handling, management and transport of batteries is essential to changing consumer behaviors. To make an impact, it’s important to understand industry trends.
Trends and Influences
Every decade – and year for that matter – brings trends that influence society. Those trends can create a lasting impact on the next generation and in the case of recycling, the improper management of specific materials (e.g. plastic packaging) is creating an environmental epidemic. Add to that China’s ban on imported recyclables in addition to India’s ban on plastic scrap import and it’s clear that we as a country need to clean up our act – literally.
But make no mistake, there are wheels in motion and active efforts to solve the recycling crisis. Manufacturers and organizations across the globe are introducing sustainable packaging, rolling-out innovative ways to harness energy from waste and like Call2Recycle, are offering take-back programs.
Rep. Betty McCollum, chair of the interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee has directed the EPA to develop an initiative tied to national standardization of recycling labels, spearheaded by Recycle Across America. And the Department of Energy recently announced a launch of a lithium ion battery recycling prize. While a step in the right direction, these programs alone are not enough.
On the consumer front, media headlines are spotlighting the trend of ‘wishful recycling’. This trend, where consumers place items they think are recyclable into their bins, is unknowingly contaminating all included materials. The intentions are good – consumers do want to recycle and help the planet. The reality is that there is disparate and oftentimes confusing information available on how to successfully recycle products, which can vary by city, state and region.
Which brings us back to consumer education. A mainstay of Call2Recycle for 25 years and an ongoing path to influence positive consumer behavior.
We’re now in the middle of 2019: the era of information overload and shrinking attention spans. Much has changed and as witnessed over the last 25 years, challenges to battery recycling are ever-present. Removing the barriers to responsible recycling is at the heart of the issue. Through stakeholder collaboration and education, we can jointly share the responsibility of battery recycling and accelerate the rate of collections for the next 25 years.