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Celebrating milestones with battery recycling

Several industry programs report milestones with battery recycling during National Battery Day.

February 24, 2021

To celebrate National Battery Day Feb. 18, several industry programs and organizations announced milestones reached or goals set for battery recycling and recovery.

Call2Recycle, an Atlanta-based consumer battery stewardship and recycling program, celebrated the fact that it recovered 8.4 million pounds of batteries that its collection partners, stewards and consumers recycled throughout the U.S. in 2020. The program reports that figure was an 11 percent increase from what it recycled in 2019.

Call2Recycle reports that there was concern that battery recycling levels could decrease in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent Ipsos survey that Call2Recycle commissioned, consumer recycling trends remained robust in 2020, mirroring each other on the East and West coasts. Call2Recycle says more than half of respondents in Vermont and California reported they recycled all or some of their batteries in 2020, while more than 40 percent of respondents were storing all or some of their consumer batteries for a future recycling trip.

According to a news release from Call2Recycle on these latest figures, the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders affected the organization's rechargeable battery collections, which declined 10 percent from 2019. However, Call2Recycle says, its total volume of batteries collected led to higher numbers, surpassing its record collections set in 2017. The program reports that the increased usage and handling of batteries in 2020 places “an even greater need for consumers to understand the safety and environmental risks associated with improperly managing batteries at their end of life.” The program plans to expand its awareness and education efforts and diverse service and solution offerings to help prevent battery safety incidents and motivate consumers to take responsible action.

In 2020, Call2Recycle says it noticed a surge in its partners’ commitment to recycle primary batteries, with 3.2 million pounds of primary batteries collected, a growth of 77 percent compared with 2019. Other sectors that contributed to battery collection growth included retailers with more than 2.3 million pounds, battery manufacturers with 1.8 million pounds and health care with 145,000 pounds.

“Achieving record-breaking collection numbers during a global pandemic is a testament to our incredible stewards and program partners,” says Leo Raudys, CEO and president of Call2Recycle. “We are exceedingly thankful to everyone involved in our program who helped make the year a success particularly during such a difficult time.”

The Responsible Battery Coalition (RBC), a Milwaukee-based coalition of companies committed to the responsible management of batteries, also used National Battery Day to celebrate its 2M Battery Challenge initiative that started three years ago. Steve Christensen, executive director at RBC, says about 99 percent of lead-acid batteries used in vehicles are recycled. However, he says, the organization launched the 2M Battery Challenge initiative in order to educate consumers and try to recover and recycle that remaining 1 percent—or about 2 million—lead-acid batteries not currently recovered.

“So, with the 2M Battery Challenge, what we did was say that yes, 99 percent is great, but let’s get that final 1 percent of batteries and recycle the 2 million other batteries not recycled. It’s a consumer campaign to encourage folks to take their battery to a retail member,” he says. “We’ve been promoting this all the time, largely digitally. It’s done incredibly well in the three years we’ve done the campaign, and we’ve had millions of impressions. Each month, it has thousands of interactions around the world. So, it’s an opportunity to inform folks around the world on the great circular economy and the closed-loop system that exists for lead-acid batteries in cars that most consumers don’t think about.”

Future battery recycling opportunities

Christensen adds that RBC is also working on a number of projects and initiatives surrounding electric vehicle (EV) batteries, including the recovery of those materials. He says many automakers predict EV sales to grow a lot in the next decade.

“We have this massive growth that we are expecting to see with electric vehicles,” he says. “Ford announced [last week] that they are going to go all-electric in Europe by 2030, and they invested $1 billion to do that in Germany. Along with that comes the challenge of all these batteries coming into service and then figuring out what to do with them when they go out of service.”

He adds that RBC is working to develop a responsible battery index that will characterize different batteries for their life cycle practices, providing details on how the batteries are made, constructed and what recovery of that material looks like. The organization hopes to have that indexing system up in 2022.

Additionally, he says RBC is working with Chicago-based Argonne National Laboratory’s ReCell Center, a lithium-ion battery research and development initiative launched in 2019, to ensure batteries are designed for maximum recyclability. He says, “We’re looking at developing the business case for closed-loop recycling systems for next-generation batteries, similar to what we have already for lead-acid batteries. We want full recyclability for these batteries, especially because right now recovered cathode material is expensive. We want to look at solutions that lower the cost for recycled materials used in batteries.”

Christensen concludes, “I think the point of National Battery Day is we want to remind folks that it’s a critical part of any vehicle—internal combustion engine (ICE), hybrid and electric. To us, that’s the real purpose of National Battery Day—making folks recognize that it’s an incredible advancement in technology. I don’t know if folks realize the importance of batteries and how they are created and the role people play in ensuring batteries have the longest, best life possible and that the end-of-life management is proper.”