The Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) was created by the New York State Legislature in 1990 to manage the solid waste produced in Onondaga County on a daily basis. Thirty-three of the thirty-five municipalities in the county voluntarily elected to become part of the OCRRA system, and in the last 20 years its board of citizen volunteers has devoted countless hours to the development of programs and policies for the proper management of solid waste.
The OCRRA Board is responsible for adopting a budget that ensures there will be sufficient revenues to cover expenditures; it does not rely on county taxes. So in 2009, when New York State and its municipalities were thrown into economic crisis mode, the OCRRA Board began crunching numbers and evaluating its many programs, including that for recycling batteries, to reduce expenses without compromising its efficiency and efficacy.
By that time, Call2Recycle®’s rechargeable battery recycling program had a strong presence in the area, and OCRRA had been a supporter that promoted the program to consumers and businesses in Onondaga County for years.
Call2Recycle is the only free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection program in North America. Since 1996, Call2Recycle has diverted more than 60 million pounds of rechargeable batteries from the solid waste stream and established a network of 30,000 public collection sites.
“Our direct partnership with Call2Recycle may have begun in 2009, but we had been making the community aware of its capabilities for years through our website and newsletter that reaches more than 100,000 county residents,” said Greg Gelewski, Recycling Operations Manager, OCRRA. “We wanted residents to know that there were opportunities throughout the community to drop off their rechargeable batteries for proper end-of-life management. The ten locations we have in the community provide easy drop-off for residents in addition to more than 50 other Call2Recycle drop-off points. We’ve tried to make it as convenient as possible for the public.”
OCRRA is not a county agency but a public benefit corporation created by the New York State legislature under the state’s public authorities law. It works closely with branches of local government, towns and villages, and county government itself as well as the city of Syracuse but receives no tax support.
“We are a self-funded trash recycling system,” said Gelewski.
After years of promoting Call2Recycle’s drop-off locations, OCRRA’s team realized that a formal partnership would offer significant financial savings as well as widen the scope of its battery recycling efforts. Because the Call2Recycle program is free, OCRRA would recognize a significant savings in its operating budget by taking part. Additionally, Call2Recycle’s experience and resources could easily meet new U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations that had gone into effect regarding the transport and cartage of bulk quantities of batteries.
According to Gelewski, OCRRA “looked at the revised DOT regulations and saw that Call2Recycle had found a way to maintain its program so we could continue the flow of these materials without incurring additional costs due to the extreme measures required for sorting and storage.”
Before Call2Recycle, the rechargeable batteries had been recycled through third-party vendors hired by OCRRA.
OCRRA has 14 collection containers set up at ten local food stores—nine Wegmans locations and one Green Hills Market (a family-owned boutique food market); the agency also has a transfer station collection and organizes household hazardous waste day collections. The food store collection points, which each have an OCRRA-designed bin that meets both DOT and Call2Recycle program requirements, are visited every week by an OCCRA employee for pick-up. OCRRA collects approximately 2000 pounds of rechargeable batteries per week from those 10 locations alone (not including the transfer station). Call2Recycle receives the rechargeable batteries collected from the drop-off points and ensures proper transport, disposal and recycling through its own network of partners.
“We value the relationship we have with OCRRA and Call2Recycle and are pleased to be able to offer battery recycling solutions to our customers,” said Jason Wadsworth, Sustainability Coordinator for Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. “Wegmans is committed to diverting materials from the waste stream in the communities we serve, and this partnership allows us to work toward that goal.”
OCRRA’s partnership with Call2Recycle is an outgrowth of Onondaga County’s 20-year commitment to waste recycling and reduction. Each year, the community reduces its total waste by more than 60 percent. To date, OCRRA has collected over 14,000 pounds of batteries, saving more than $6,000 since the program started.
“Joining with Call2Recycle was really an opportunity for the community to continue and expand its efforts to be more sustainable,” said Gelewski. “The ease of the program and its support mechanisms allow us to take the Call2Recycle collection bin to any site in the community. It’s easy to do, and simple for the community to understand, due to Call2Recycle’s educational materials, collection boxes and just the overall simplicity of the system.”
Additionally, OCRRA is assured that the materials are being properly managed from an environmental standpoint.
“OCRRA supports extended producer responsibility and we see the Call2Recycle program as an excellent example of how manufacturers can step up and take responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products. We applaud that as a model for manufacturers of other materials to emulate,” said Gelewski . “We also concur that throughout the supply chain there is a role for others including the consumer and the government to play.”
The OCRRA system has been an outstanding example of governmental consolidation, where as a result of the agency’s relationship with the local municipalities—the towns, the villages, the county, and the city of Syracuse—and its partnerships such as that with Call2Recycle, it has been able to cost-effectively manage recycling.
According to Gelewski , “We’ve probably achieved more through this collaboration than we would have if we were all working separately.”
If OCRRA was still using a third-party vendor, the cost for handling the processing of the rechargeable batteries would be 40 cents per pound. By partnering with Call2Recycle, that’s now free.