Catching Up with Call2Recycle’s Latest Efforts

Mallory Szczepanski, Vice President of Member Relations and Publications

March 8, 2016

7 Min Read
Catching Up with Call2Recycle’s Latest Efforts

Call2Recycle Inc., a product stewardship program that offers no-cost battery and cellphone recycling solutions, recently announced that the organization collected 12.6 million pounds of batteries in 2015, marking the organization’s 19th consecutive year-over-year increase.

The organization is taking the battery recycling industry by storm by partnering with various retailers, businesses and municipalities to collect and recycle batteries, ultimately diverting hazardous items from entering the waste stream. Call2Recycle Inc. is also providing access to approximately 30,000 publically accessible collection in the the United States and Canada.

Waste360 recently spoke with Carl Smith, CEO and president of Call2Recycle Inc., about the importance of recycling batteries and the organization’s goals for the rest of 2016.

Waste360: Can you provide some background on Call2Recycle Inc. and the organization’s mission?

Carl Smith: Call2Recycle Inc. was started by five battery companies in 1994 as a mechanism for companies to set themselves up to handle the end of life disposal of rechargeable batteries. There were concerns around the increase in state regulation and the industry didn’t feel it was prepared to be able to respond to that regulation unless they had a solution like Call2Recycle set up to handle it.

Since our inception in 1994, we’ve collected about 110 million pounds of batteries throughout the United States and Canada, where we operate as both a compliance mechanism and as a voluntary program to divert consumer batteries from landfills to the recycling stream.

With Call2Recycle Inc., consumers don’t have to worry about separating the batteries. Not all batteries are created equal: some aren’t toxic, some have metals of concern in them, some can go boom in the night and some are pretty demine.

We have boxes in approximately 30,000 publically accessible collection sites, and consumers can simply put the batteries in a bag and place them in one of the boxes. When we get the batteries, we sort them, separate them and send them to different waste streams based on their similar chemistries.

Our mission is to be the premiere product stewardship organization in North America.

Waste360: We just recently celebrated National Battery Day. Do you think this national day helps spike an interest in recycling batteries?

Carl Smith: Based on our data, it has certainly sparked awareness. From our standpoint, National Battery Day allows us to leverage many of our retail partners to gain consumer awareness, not only on the need to recycle but how to actually recycle batteries. We work with companies like Best Buy, Lowes, Staples, Radioshack, Sears and Home Depot to raise awareness around battery recycling.

We saw a 91 percent increase of unique visitors to our website compared to the previous year, and this was the first time that we actually tried to promote National Battery Day. Instead of joining in the noise around Earth Day, we chose to focus our energy to gaining awareness around National Battery Day. This was an awareness event for us, not a collection event. Year-to-date, our collection of primary batteries is up almost 20 percent, but it’s hard to say how much of that came from National Battery Day itself.

Waste360: What are the benefits of recycling batteries?

Carl Smith: The key benefit is that there are materials in batteries that you can process and use. As a consequence, you can avoid seeking virgin materials like nickel, cobalt, lead, cadmium and other things that you have to dig holes to actually capture.

If you can essentially mine batteries to get those materials, the cost effectively reduces the need to expend further natural resources. To an extent, you can divert things from landfills and avoid landfill buildup, which is another very positive benefit.

Waste360: Can you explain the product lifecycle of batteries?

Carl Smith: It varies from battery type to battery type. I am not a big DIY person. I have a rechargeable battery-powered screwdriver sitting in my garage that I bought almost 25 years ago, and it has a nickel cadmium battery. It has been in continuous but not frequent use for the last 25 years so depending on the battery it can last a really, really long time. In that case, when the battery is dead I would pop it out and separately dispose of the screwdriver and the battery. Then, I would probably go back to Home Depot or Lowes to buy a new one.

While I’m there, I would drop the battery off in one of Call2Recycle’s boxes in the front of the store. When that box becomes full, the Home Depot or Lowes store closes it up and makes it available for UPS, which visits the store daily. UPS then picks up the box and transports it to one of the five North American sorting facilities that we have, which take a look at the batteries we receive and sort by similar chemistries.

The sorted batteries then go to processors that specialize in recycling those particular batteries. The processors have an electric arc furnace that separates the nickel and cadmium from the battery, for example, because those are the two main metals in this particular battery that have value in secondary markets. The nickel is ultimately processed at about a 99 percent purity level, and it’s sold into the steel industry to be used as a steel alloy.

The cadmium is typically sold back to nickel cadmium battery manufacturers, most of which are in China. The rest of the battery is used for iron rich materials or as a slag, an input for making cement.  In the end, 100 percent of that nickel cadmium battery is recycled, and none of it goes into a landfill.

Waste360: Call2Recycle recently partnered with Vermont to launch the first single-use battery recycling program in the U.S. What is this new program and how it will be a valuable resource to the U.S.?

Carl Smith: We already had a rechargeable voluntary program in Vermont and the new legislation for primary batteries went into effect January 1, 2016. Now, we’re collecting both primary and rechargeable batteries in the state of Vermont.

In the first two months of this year, the collection of all batteries in that state has gone up five times. The new law has done is two things: It formalized the need to collect and recycle batteries, and it ensured that manufacturers of those batteries participated in financing a program that handled take back in recycling of those batteries.

Those two things made a huge difference in how much we’ve been able to collect and what kind of impact we have been able to have on diverting batteries from landfills.

We have voluntary rechargeable programs in 49 out of the 50 states as well as mandatory rechargeable programs in both New York and Minnesota. There is currently legislation in the state of Maine that would apply to all consumer batteries. It’s still up in the air if it will ultimately get signed into law, but selectively we have sought passage to legislation that applies uniformly to all batteries. This legislation is different from the state of Vermont because it applies to all batteries and it would help us optimize collections. It would also make sure that manufacturers are on a level playing field with equitable financing to collect those batteries.

Waste360: What can we expect to see from Call2Recycle in 2016?

Carl Smith: We have begun a campaign called GreenVantage to reach out to municipal governments that are seeking a mechanism to send their batteries. We are trying to encourage municipal governments that are set up to handle battery recycling and collection to play a bigger role in collecting batteries from consumers in their area and directing them to us to make sure that they are handled well.

That’s been a big push we’ve had in the United States over the past couple of months.

Our Box-in-a-Box program is also expanding to the United States. The message of getting boxes out and getting boxes back is more cost effective and efficient and that’s going very well. We want to continue to make our system more efficient and cost effective, and the Box-in-a-Box program is one measure we are taking in that area. 

About the Author(s)

Mallory Szczepanski

Vice President of Member Relations and Publications, NWRA

Mallory Szczepanski was previously the editorial director for Waste360. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Columbia College Chicago, where her research focused on magazine journalism. She also has previously worked for Contract magazine, Restaurant Business magazine, FoodService Director magazine and Concrete Construction magazine.

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