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Municipal Recycling

By Ryan Allen

Freelance Journalist

It’s easy for everyone in your community to help protect the environment.

It really is.

Especially when local municipalities establish a simple system for battery recycling, then educate residents about their recycling program’s convenient access and ease of use.

Once residents learn how and where to drop off spent household batteries, recycling old batteries becomes routine. And soon enough, as a result, our earth is filled with increasingly less waste battery material that could have otherwise been recycled.

Every year, billions of used batteries are deposited into solid waste landfills in the United States. These batteries, which contain potentially hazardous elements and metals such as zinc, nickel-cadmium, nickel metal hydride, and lithium cause unnecessary heavy metal contamination to the planet. Yet demand for batteries in the U.S. is projected to increase substantially every year going forward, as an increasing amount of battery-demanding handheld and other electronic components are produced.

Fortunately, many municipalities across the U.S. are presently working with their communities to counter the adverse affects an increase in battery usage may have on the environment.

And their efforts are paying off.

By making battery recycling as convenient and effortless as possible for the public at large—as easy as leaving used batteries at the curb for pickup, or dropping them off at a local post office—residents are becoming involved, in a big way.

For example, since 1998 the Macomb County Health Department in Michigan has partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Postal Service to provide a means to collect used household batteries from county residents.

“We’ve placed plastic collection containers in all 26 of the post offices in Macomb County where residents can place their spent household batteries,” said Robert MacDonald, Program Specialist, Macomb County Health Department. “The majority of the batteries are alkaline, but we also get lithium and nickel cadmium.”

United States postal carriers then take the batteries from the post offices to a central location where the batteries are placed in a larger container. When this container becomes full, MacDonald calls Battery Solutions, a battery recycling firm. Battery Solutions simply picks up the batteries, leaves another empty container, and handles the rest of the process for the municipality. That’s it.

The county’s system is a simple and smooth process. And it’s a community benefit that’s easily realized when one considers Macomb County accepted nearly 19 tons of recycled batteries in 2007 from their residents. That’s an enormous amount of batteries. And that’s why it’s fortunate more and more people—on local and governmental levels—are becoming aware of the positive impact of battery recycling.

“The program has been wildly successful. People in our area are well acquainted with the program, and neighboring counties have inquired about how to get involved and set up such a program in their own communities,” said MacDonald. “In fact, we received a pretty special award from the White House in Washington D.C. We went to D.C. to receive a 1999 White House Closing the Circle (CTC) Award which recognized unique local and federal relationships in trying to offer environmental service.”

In Michigan’s neighboring state of Ohio, the solid waste district in Logan County in West Central Ohio also has a successful residential battery recycling system in place. Their collection system is tailored to serve the needs of the residents of the small rural farming community of about 48,000 people.

“There are six drop off areas throughout the county—in schools and county offices—and we provide curbside pickup,” said Tom Erwin, Field Services Coordinator, Solid Waste District, West Central Ohio. “The curbside pickup is performed with the regular recycling pickup. We just ask the residents to put the batteries in a plastic zip lock bag.”

And the response from the public has been nothing but positive.

“To increase knowledge, we created public awareness about the importance of battery recycling and it didn’t take much for the public to catch on,” said Erwin. “The initial response was good and it keeps getting better. We received 7,000 pounds of recycled household batteries in 2007.” That number indicates Logan County residents are doing their part to help preserve the environment. It also indicates that recycling is an important issue for the local government there as well.

“As a solid waste district, our job is to keep anything that doesn’t belong in a landfill out of the landfill,” said Erwin. “In fact, Logan County is starting a large push on manufacturer and retailer responsibility, to persuade local manufacturers and retailers, such as Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, to take back the batteries and other recyclables they produce or sell.”

Responsibility. Perhaps that’s the key word here—the word that resonates in the minds of those involved; from government officials to municipality professionals to residents. Each feels it’s their duty to help preserve our natural resources by recycling any material that can be reused, including batteries.

And maybe Steven Aynes, Executive Director of the Central Wayne County Sanitation Authority in Michigan stated such responsibility best when he said: “The Central Wayne County Sanitation Authority board continues our battery recycling program because they feel very strongly that it is the right environmental approach. And the public has felt the same way. We’ve been collecting more and more pounds of batteries every year.”

So it seems, as an increasing amount of batteries are produced over the years, more communities across the U.S. might come to realize the environmental importance of battery recycling, and develop an easy-to-use collection system for their residents as well.

We can only hope.

Because only through public awareness and easy access to a simple battery recycling system can communities act responsibly, and help reduce the burden placed on our natural resources for the years to come.