Battery Recycling: The Convenience Factor

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When looking at motivators that drive us to act, convenience tops the list.


When looking at motivators that drive us to act, convenience tops the list. Convenience is often tied to perception of everyday activities or actions and how they fit into our lifestyle. For example, the convenience of locations like: grocery stores, gas stations, schools, etc. This extends to recycling and further drips down to consumer battery recycling.

In reviewing media coverage on the topic of recycling, the findings are mixed. In 2015 Fortune magazine included a headline “American recycling is in trouble: Can Big Waste fix it?” Coupled with other national articles noting the decline in recycling rates across the country, a conundrum remains: if the vast majority of Americans (93%+) believe that their “green behavior” is exemplified by their recycling, why have performance results been difficult to improve and maintain?

Previous research led us to a three-step recycling pyramid: WHY, HOW and ACT. First, determining why to recycle a product. Lead batteries, for example, can be toxic and should be kept out of landfills. Next, how to recycle items, like the widespread awareness that grocers will take back plastic bags. Finally, armed with this information, there must be action. A consumer must act on the knowledge of why and how.

Consumers are a major contributor and influencer in the battery recycling market. To better understand their behaviors and patterns, we commissioned a research study with Nielsen.

In reviewing the findings on the two tables, an interesting conclusion unfolded: While the need to recycle these products wasn’t substantially different, there was a difference in perceived convenience. Specifically, the research noted the correlation between recycling and frequency/availability of curbside recycling of more common materials like newspapers and aluminum cans. Recycling other non-traditional items (laptops or cellphones) meant a trip to a Household Hazardous Waste facility or select retailer.

Herein lay the convenience factor, not to be confused with accessibility. In recycling regulation, accessibility is often characterized in terms of the number of drop-off locations per county or other jurisdiction. For instance, 86% of the population is within 10 miles of a Call2Recycle drop-off location in the U.S.

As stated earlier, convenience is different. For instance, a family in remote Texas might travel 25 miles for groceries and believe this is reasonably convenient. But a suburban family that must drive five miles to a retailer to drop-off a used product may view this as terribly inconvenient.

This concept of convenience is critical in getting consumers to recycle. Generally speaking, curbside pick-up is the most convenient way to recycle. To optimize recycling, there must be a concerted effort to pick-up as much material at curbside, an approach that brings constraints and disadvantages. For instance, picking up rechargeable batteries, desktop computers and paint at curbside poses safety risks. It’s not a coincidence that glass recycling decreased when curbside pick-up of glass was curtailed.

Unless a program is enhancing the perceived convenience of the drop-off location, simply increasing a program’s accessibility may not have an impact on performance. Interestingly, recycling mandates that insist on measuring and regulating accessibility may be missing the point.

After review of this research, our conclusion is that we must pursue strategies that increase the perceived convenience of recycling. Simply adding collection sites hasn’t and won’t increase diversion rates. To realize a true increase in collection rates, sites must be carefully selected and promoted.

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