The Recycling Partnership (TRP) — a nonprofit “action agent” that seeks to transform the U.S. residential recycling system in positive ways — released a new guide called, “Personal Electronics & Battery End-of-Life Management Guide: Steps to Effective Community Collection and Recovery.”
The guide and accompanying resources are meant to equip communities and their decision makers with information and best practices so they can implement effective community collection and recovery programs for Personal Electronics (PEs) and batteries. It notes that, “Cell phones, tablets, laptops, power tools, gaming devices, and many more [electronic] products are fixtures of modern life. These also are one of the fastest-growing residential waste streams, though only a small fraction of the almost 500 million pounds of PEs used each year in the U.S. are recovered.”
The guide further notes that PEs often contain valuable resources including nickel, cobalt, cadmium, lead, zinc, manganese, silver, and mercury, but that “some of those metals and elements are hazardous if released into the environment and not properly recovered.” Consequently, they are responsible for a large portion of the overall toxic metals found in landfills. Another area of concern is the fact that mishandled electronics and batteries can cause fires or explode in waste and recycling trucks, materials recovery facilities (MRFs), transfer stations, waste-to-energy plants, or landfills, which is “creating a real crisis for the recycling industry.”
Through these latest materials, The Recycling Partnership aims to make it easy for communities to set up and maintain appropriate collection programs for these electronics, including the critical aspects of educating and motivating the public to “maximize recovery of their PEs and rechargeable batteries while keeping them out of the waste stream.”
The resource is broken down into the following sections, and a key aspect of each is noted:
Reviewing the collection options
Regardless of the approach selected (permanent collection programs in the form of curbside collection or community collection sites, or collection events), it’s important to establish a relationship with an electronics/battery recycling company in your area to handle your collected material, preferably one (or more) that is certified for managing PEs and batteries. And remember, though the options vary widely in terms of the demands they place on communities and those that use your programs, they have one common key element of success: public outreach and education.
Funding your program
Consider assessing your community members for proper disposal through solid waste funding mechanisms. Getting a fee in place now—while PE consumption is lower than projected in the future—will help ensure the future sustainability of your program.
Recordkeeping and data evolution
If your community has a PE and battery collection program of any kind, it’s important to keep good records and data at the point of the collection activities. That information can help you assess the program’s success, identify inefficiencies and unnecessary expenses, comply with applicable local/state/federal rules, and more.
If your community operates collection sites or sponsors collection events, front-line staff must have the proper training and written rules on inbound and outbound procedures to conduct their tasks safely and efficiently. Staff should receive U.S. Department of Transportation hazardous materials training as well as 40-hour HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) training to oversee operations.
Educating your community
Educating the public and changing their behavior is critical to ensure that PEs and batteries are managed safely and sustainably. By emphasizing seven key points, your community is much more likely to successfully collect and recycle PEs and their rechargeable batteries. One of these is: “Keep the message simple: Batteries can spark or explode. They don't belong in trash or recycling.”
Appendices to the guide include best practices checklists, important legislation, regulations, and certifications, and more.
In sum, “An informed public is the key to success of any community PE and rechargeable battery recovery program.” And, “The reality is that most people don’t know or are confused about the risks of tossing PEs into the garbage or recycling bin or cart, and that the types of devices and collection services change over time. They also aren’t aware of where or how to store, handle, recycle, or dispose of those products properly.”
Download the guide and related educational assets here: https://recyclingpartnership.org/electronics