All Recycling Is the Same, Right?

by | Dec 15, 2020

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Recycling is confusing. Despite 94 tons of municipal solid waste recycled or composted in 2017, policymakers haven’t been able to address the murky, inconsistent recycling standard across the US. That is, until now.  In October, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a National Recycling Strategy that will address the need for a nationwide approach to recycling and help resolve policy, education, and environmental challenges.

But should all recycling be treated equally? For instance, many environmental advocates – most notably, the MacArthur Foundation – would prefer that policymakers look at circularity or the extent to which materials can be continuously used and reused over time.  At Call2Recycle, where we care first and foremost about consumer batteries, it isn’t enough that they are recycled; we, too, have to care about the broader environmental issues surrounding their end-of-life management.  We’re focused on 5 critical issues when recycling batteries:

—Safe Storage: Many municipal collections facilities along with key retailers have had to curtail hours or shut down completely during the pandemic, making take back less convenient for consumers.  Whether burdened by a pandemic, care must be taken to safely and responsibly store batteries until they can be dropped off for recycling.  The most important measure a consumer can take is to protect the terminals, so the batteries don’t inadvertently generate a spark, potentially starting a fire.  The battery terminals can be taped, or each battery can be isolated in individual zip lock style bags until one is able to safely return the batteries for recycling.

—Bulk Ship When Possible: If you’re a business or group of businesses, it’s so much better environmentally (and far more cost effective) to consolidate shipments and transport in bulk, reducing the carbon footprint of a critical step in the recycling process.  Municipal governments can often do this as can major retailers.  We want to work with retailers and municipalities alike to seek out those opportunities to maximize shipments.

—How Much Is Recycled? There is not a universal definition of what “recycling” a battery means. While all who attempt to recycle batteries seek out the most valuable metals in the batteries, the best recyclers seek to optimize what is recovered.  The recycling efficiency rate (RER) indicates how much of the battery received actually is recovered for use in a secondary product or material.  Ask your battery recycler what their RER is and, if they don’t know, they probably aren’t maximizing their processes.

—Certificate of Recycling (COR), also known as a Certificate of Destruction: A certificate of recycling (COR) is the acknowledgement of the recycler that the batteries sent to them were actually processed.  Insist on receiving a COR to ensure that the recycler did what it was asked to do.

—R2 or e-Steward Certification: Finally, verify what environmental certifications that the recycler has attained.  R2 is a standard and certification sponsored by the Sustainable Electronics Recycling Institute (SERI), a non-profit focused on the proper end-of-life management of electronics and the batteries that power them.  It’s a comprehensive quality standard requiring considerable diligence across disciplines. Only the best processors attain this certification. E-Steward certification, sponsored by the Basel Action Network, is a more focused certification, ensuring that waste is not exported or, more appropriately, dumped on underdeveloped countries.  Both these options are important although quite different.

It is critical that we improve recycling in this country, but it is also important we do it right. Not all recycling is the same. From consumers to sustainability professionals, key questions must be asked to ensure that batteries are recycled as responsibly as possible

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