All Charged Up

THE RECHARGEABLE BATTERY RECYCLING Corp. (RBRC), Atlanta, has reported recycling more than 4.4 million pounds of rechargeable batteries, along with 48,000 cell phones, in 2004. The battery-collection figure is up 7.7 percent from 2003, when the organization recycled 4.1 million pounds. Yet the group admits it still wants to amplify the recycling rate.

RBRC's Call2Recycle cell phone recycling program, launched in April 2004, collects cell phones and rechargeable batteries in collection bins placed in stores, community centers and at public agencies. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of refurbished phones goes to charities such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Items that are not reusable are dismantled. The nickel and iron are extracted from the batteries and are used in the manufacture of stainless steel products. RBRC says no byproducts from the process ever winds up in landfills.

In 2002, RBRC recycled 3.4 million pounds of used cell phones and batteries. In 2001, when the organization expanded the program and began mining used rechargeable batteries for nickel metal hydride, lithium ion and small sealed lead, in addition to the standard nickel cadmium, RBRC collected 3 million pounds.

While RBRC is recycling increased amounts of rechargeable batteries each year, its efforts are being scrutinized. Inform Inc., a New York-based environmental research firm, has issued a survey criticizing the recycling efforts, saying RBRC is 12 million pounds below its own estimates to recycle 16.9 million pounds of rechargeable batteries in 2004.

Inform “fails to recognize the bigger picture here,” says Norm England, president and CEO of RBRC. “While Inform rightfully points out that our actual collection numbers have fallen short of our original expectations, that forecast was made more than seven years ago, and the numbers have been revised since then to be more realistic — and perhaps less ambitious — as our understanding of the market has grown.

“In our eyes, even one less rechargeable battery or cell phone that we can keep out of the waste stream is significant, and more than 4.4 million pounds in a single year has to be qualified as a success,” England adds.

Rechargeable batteries fuel an increasing number of household products, including cellular and cordless phones, laptops, camcorders, hand-held mini vacuums, cordless mixers and blenders, and rechargeable razors, to name a few. RBRC says 95 percent of Americans own a product that requires rechargeable batteries.

RBRC says it expects to collect more cell phones and rechargeable batteries in 2005 than it did in 2004. However, Theresa Hall, a spokeswoman for the organization, says public knowledge of cell phone and rechargeable battery recycling is not where it should be. “A survey conducted by RBRC revealed that more than 70 percent of respondents were unaware that cell phones are recyclable, although 90 percent indicated they would recycle if provided with convenient drop-off bins,” she says.