Like many sustainability issues, battery recycling awareness and engagement varies across the country. A recent research study commissioned by Call2Recycle noted that 72% of Californians are aware that household batteries can be recycled yet only 44% of households are doing so. The gap between knowledge and action is impeding active recyclers, in many cases, from doing the right thing. The result: they do what they think is right.
Enter “wishful recycling”.
Noted in several academic, industry and consumer articles, this act of putting diverse materials in a curbside bin in the hopes that they are properly recycled is unknowingly creating more harm than good. For example, tossing batteries into the bin with other recyclables can put everyone involved in the battery recycling journey at risk. And the outcomes are directly impacting municipal recycling programs at a time when they are already strained by changing market conditions.
Most notably, China’s ban on imported recyclables and India’s latest ban on plastic scrap imports is taking a toll on the recycling world, causing county and state programs – many of which are balancing limited budget and personnel – to rethink recycling operational strategies. While many topics keep MRF and transfer station operators up at night, contamination likely rises to the top. The worst form of comingling recyclables is when it creates safety hazards, like when batteries are tossed in the bin. With international and national changes afoot, how do municipalities and recycling programs drive change in their local communities?
Consumer education is a good start.
A salient example is a recent California Bay Area public education effort led by Call2Recycle and supported by industry groups devoted to batteries, electronics and power tools. The pilot campaign, titled Avoid the Spark. Be Battery Safety Smart.TM, engaged local partners and consumers across five California counties (Alameda, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo) through media coverage, in-market advertising, outreach events and educational resources to drive behavioral changes with the goal of reducing battery safety incidents. Efforts to spotlight the ‘hidden dangers’ of trashed batteries decreased the number of unprotected batteries returned through Call2Recycle from the Bay Area. In fact, battery protection rates improved by more than 15% in July-Oct 2018 compared to July-Oct 2017.
The key take-away: education and outreach can influence consumer behavior and change ‘wishful recyclers’ into ‘responsible recyclers’. Efforts don’t need to be grand or expensive but rather targeted and consistent. By partnering with agencies and organizations to support a consumer safety message, there is much to be gained. More upfront education means less back-end headaches or worse, safety incidents. In this industry, a small investment can go a long way to protect people and property.