Delaware State Waste Authority: Rechargeable Battery Recycling Evolves with the Times

DSWA_logo-08Recycling has become more popular as a result of the overarching trend to act “green.” However, long before residential recycling was in vogue, the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) was at the forefront with its residential drop-off recycling centers across the state.

Based on the European recycling model, the ground-breaking Recycle Delaware drop-off program was established in 1990. Collection containers were placed with private site sponsors, such as schools, churches and businesses, to collect newspaper, glass, paper, plastics and steel and aluminum cans. Of note were the bright yellow containers placed at each site to collect both alkaline and rechargeable batteries—an unusual practice at the time.

DSWA accepted small household batteries (A/AA/C/D), button batteries (watch, hearing aid and camera) and rechargeable batteries (small power tools, electronic devices). DSWA technicians regularly visited the sites to collect the recycled materials and maintain the 180+ locations. 

Universal Recycling Changes the Game

Fast forward to June 2010, when the Delaware Universal Recycling Law–which mandates curbside recycling in the state–was passed. The DSWA, a quasi state agency that operates independently and generates its revenue from tip and transfer fees was then able to partner with Call2Recycle®, North America’s first and largest battery stewardship organization, to responsibly recycle their collected rechargeable batteries (up to 11 lbs. or 5kg).

The two organizations united behind their joint goal: Develop a program to divert rechargeable batteries from the landfill for residents across the state. This included funding a program to properly recycle rechargeable batteries.

“The universal recycling law passed in 2010 gave us the budget and resources to properly recycle batteries. We can now keep rechargeable batteries completely out of the waste stream by sending them to Call2Recycle for recycling,” said Rich Von Stetten, senior manager of statewide recycling, DSWA.

Since launching a battery recycling program through Call2Recycle, the DSWA has collected and recycled 32,438 lbs. of rechargeable batteries and 729 lbs. of cellphones. About 50% of the batteries are Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd).

Technicians sort the batteries, then package them into drums. The drums are loaded onto pallets, shrink-wrapped, then shipped to a Call2Recycle processor. Call2Recycle pays shipping costs for the batteries. The processor melts down the batteries into by-products that are used to make new batteries, stainless steel alloy and cement additives. To ensure that the batteries are safely and efficiently transported and processed, Call2Recycle follows the stringent guidelines in third-party certifications from Responsible Recycling (R2) and the Basel Action Network (BAN).

Call2Recycle also sends DSWA regular reports on its program, including the amount and type of batteries being recycled. Von Stetten uses these reports to update the company on the trends within the program and identify any emerging issues. 

Educating the Next Generation

DSWA_EnviBldgCommunity outreach has always been a key component of the DSWA programs. In early September, the DSWA celebrated the grand opening of an Environmental Education Building in New Castle, Delaware. Schoolchildren see how waste is collected, processed and recycled. One of the inaugural exhibits is a Call2Recycle kiosk that features a video and other information on rechargeable batteries recycling. Von Stetten says the goal is to encourage the environmental stewardship among children that they can bring back to their families.

The battery recycling program is also promoted on the DSWA web site, including an 800 number that tells Delaware residents where they can find the closest drop off location. also features a searchable drop-off locator for Delaware.

“Delaware has always placed a strong emphasis on recycling. What’s unique about Delaware is the sheer number of rechargeable battery collection sites they have available across the state. Residents have the option of taking their batteries to one of the 100 DSWA drop-off locations or to a national Call2Recycle collection site, found at stores such as The Home Depot, Lowe’s, RadioShack and Staples,” said Todd Ellis, account manager, Call2Recycle. “Residents really have no excuse not to the recycle their rechargeable batteries.”

“We were the guinea pig that started the idea of drop off centers. I am happy to say the concept has endured. Residents need a place to recycle materials, like batteries, that they can’t place curbside,” said Von Stetten. “We plan to have this program around for a long time. History has shown that as recycling increases, the tonnage to the landfills decreases and that’s good for everyone.”

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