Before this year, the RBRC (Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp.) limited the kind of batteries it collected and recycled to Ni-Cd batteries. As of January, however, it expanded its campaign to include the other rechargeable battery chemistries. The company anticipates that this move will make it easier for consumers to be vigilant about their recycling efforts because they won't have to differentiate between which batteries can be recycled. As Theresa Hall, manager of communications, explains, "If it's rechargeable, it's recyclable. It's an easier message to remember."
RBRC decided to expand its program because newer rechargeable battery technology is becoming increasingly popular in new portable electronic products. "The technology exists to recycle the additional rechargeable battery chemistries and by doing so we limit the amount of used batteries from entering the solid waste stream," she explains.
A Three-Tiered Program
RBRC collects used batteries through a three-tiered program:
• businesses and public agencies,
• retailers and
• communities across North America.
Businesses that collect large quantities of batteries are given a blanket rate to ship their collections to RBRC's recycling facility, and RBRC pays the recycling costs. Retailers who sell replacement rechargeable batteries can also join in the effort by putting up collection boxes and posting point-of-sale material free of charge. Rechargeable battery and product manufacturers support the RBRC program by paying a license fee to place the RBRC Battery Recycling Seal--a circle with the recycling symbol in the middle and a toll free number to call for disposal information--on their portable electronic products. The seal illustrates their commitment to preserving the environment and conserving natural resources. Batteries on the market now may very well carry this symbol. "It's a voluntary program that promotes proactive environmental efforts and product stewardship," says Hall.
Local, regional and national stores have also become recycling partners with RBRC, including Batteries Plus, Best Buy, Black and Decker, Target, Sears, RadioShack, Target, Wal-Mart and Circuit City. "These are the best places to recycle used rechargeable batteries because most people tend to bring in their old batteries to the store with them when they need a replacement," explains Hall. Since the new program has just undergone expansion, RBRC has yet to receive collection boxes back that contain mixed chemistry batteries.
RBRC also assists communities in setting up collection sites, using existing community recycling systems. Communities can promote the RBRC service through community fliers or newsletters. "We have more than 30,000 participating retail and community sites in the United states and Canada--or approximately one site for every 10,000 residents," Hall says.
Since 1995, 20 million pounds of batteries have been recycled, thanks to the combined efforts of the RBRC program and the industry. The data tracks the number of pounds collected rather than the number of batteries recycled because there is such a widespread difference among battery sizes and weights. For example, a power tool battery can be the size of a brick--and feel like it--whereas today's cell phone batteries are small and light.
U.S. legislation mandates proper disposal requirements of certain battery chemistries for businesses and battery manufacturers. For instance, the use of mercury in alkaline batteries was phased out after the Mercury Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act was signed in 1996. Although many of the potentially harmful elements have been removed from today's batteries, many environmentally aware consumers are still trying to reduce the number of objects that end up in our landfills. "Recycling used rechargeable batteries makes sense because it provides a way to keep them out of our landfills while also reclaiming useable materials," says Hall. "It would be great if more industries would find ways to recycle their products. Recycling preserves our natural resources and allows us to use natural materials again."
What Becomes of Recycled Batteries?
There are many uses for materials that can be extracted from recycled batteries:
• The nickel and iron from Ni-Cd batteries is processed into a metal reclamation alloy for the production of stainless steel
• Cadmium is purified and processed for new Ni-Cd batteries
• Lead is used for new lead products
• Cobalt from N-Mh and Li-ion is used for metal processing
The good news, says Hall, is that the industry responsible for creating batteries has been vocal about recycling efforts. "Ninety percent of the rechargeable power industry is backing us," she says. "Members of five major battery companies founded the company and continue to sit on the board. We attend trade shows to communicate our mission with product manufacturers. We continue to educate companies that may not be as aware of the battery situation about the importance of recycling rechargeable batteries."
In terms of consumers, RBRC is steadily receiving more calls to its toll-free consumer helpline and more visits to its Web site. Participating retail and community drop-off locations are listed on both the helpline and the Web site. "They're hearing our message," says Hall. While limited as a nonprofit organization in its mass outreach abilities, RBRC uses many ways to distribute its message. "We have to be creative and utilize communication mediums in any way we can," Hall explains. "The average life of a battery can be anywhere between two and five years, depending on the frequency of use and proper handling and charging of the product. But just because a consumer hears the message today doesn't mean his battery is ready to be recycled yet. We want them to hear our message when it's time to recycle their battery. We want rechargeable battery recycling to be as common as glass or paper recycling."
"Consumer surveys indicate that if an easy and accessible program is in place, people will recycle," Hall says. "People understand the importance and need for recycling. It's good for our environment. It's the right thing to do. For many people, recycling glass, aluminum and paper is second nature. The RBRC program makes it easy for consumers to add one more item to their list."