Recycling is more popular than ever, not only for those in the sustainability industry but also for consumers, who are increasingly learning about eco-friendly alternatives to dispose of products. It's a feel-good concept that suggests that we are being responsible for the environment.
However, recycling is increasingly influenced by numerous factors that present important challenges to organizations with a stake in the responsible management of the end-of-life products worldwide. From measuring the success of recycling programs to managing the increasing demand for tailored solutions, recycling should not be examined in a vacuum but instead as part of a larger system where costs, energy use, and greenhouse gases, among other elements, are considered.
As the leading North American battery stewardship organization, we recognize the challenges of recycling and the larger issue of product stewardship. To better explore these changing dynamics and share our insights from more than 20 years of battery stewardship, we've commissioned a white paper entitled: Shifting the Focus from End-Of-Life Recycling to Continuous Product Lifecycles.
The white paper explores two important concepts that are becoming vital to the recycling and product stewardship sectors:
- Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) involves evaluating how materials can be reused during their entire lifecycle while minimizing associated environmental impacts. The way materials and products are managed--ranging from an eco-conscious design to anticipating the way that consumers will dispose of the product-- requires a larger set of objectives to balance trade-offs involved in the recycling of materials.
- The Circular Economy calls for evaluating reuse, repair, refurbishing, and recycling as part of a larger approach to advance common goals. For example, when batteries are recycled, its by-products later used in fertilizer production, and their by-products no longer being reused, should these batteries be characterized as being part of the circular economy? Is the environmental footprint inferior to a battery that is recycled and its by-products used to manufacture new batteries? Several U.S. organizations have defined and implemented an approach that examines materials management as a whole, including environmental effects such as costs of habitat, etc.
As recycling becomes a much more complex concept, our thinking must also continue to evolve. For example there are now different types of recycling to consider, including closed-loop, open-loop, down cycling, and upcycling. And while recycling is often viewed as a process that transforms waste into usable materials, there are different ways in which those materials can be used, to make the same product, or to be re-used in other products. For us, to ensure that our program maximizes materials, Call2Recycle strives to move up the Waste Management Hierarchy Pyramid, where the goal is to "reduce" and "reuse" materials.
Waste Management Hierarchy Pyramid
If we only look at the environmental performance of recycling in terms of the percentage of materials collected used as secondary products, we would be missing a series of important factors such as product design, energy consumed in the process, impact on virgin material, and more. Specifically for battery recycling, most use the Recycling Efficiency Rate to measure performance. However, while widely accepted in the industry, it is only one piece to the larger puzzle.
Call2Recycle is in favor of adopting a holistic approach for material recovery options that are based on a broader criteria that looks at: conservation of resources, avoidance of pollution, technical feasibility, and social and economic value. As we delve in more ways that can efficiently evaluate the success of product stewardship programs we must expand beyond the traditional meaning of "recycling", and look at our results in terms of the net positive effects in on our environment.
Call2Recycle is hosting a webinar about Product Stewardship and the Challenges of a Circular Economy with Greenbiz on Tuesday, April 19 at 1 pm ET. Register to attend and learn more.