Recycling: From Light Sockets to Rechargeable Batteries

Panasonic Case Study

Panasonic_BlueIn 1918, Mr. Konosuke Matsushita sat at his kitchen table with his new invention: a two-pronged socket with both a light bulb socket and plug. His invention would allow people to plug in two electric products at a time—an unheard of luxury at the time. His materials? Old light bulb aluminum bases recycled from a nearby junkyard.

From those recycling roots grew electronics leader Panasonic, which has a long-standing commitment to sustainability that includes recycling its products to lessen the impact on the environment.  As part of its 100-year anniversary in 2018, Panasonic announced a goal of becoming the leader in green electronics innovation. Its ‘Green Plan 2018’ is a comprehensive plan for steadily cutting its environmental impact while making the world’s greenest and most green-enabling products. Among its goals is to achieve zero waste at its manufacturing facilities and support programs to collect and recycle their products.

Call2Recycle, Inc. shares a similar philosophy to Panasonic when it comes to recycling. Call2Recycle® is a product stewardship program that ensures that rechargeable batteries introduced into the marketplace are being responsibly recycled when they reach their end of life. Panasonic is a founding member of Call2Recycle and long-time licensee, helping to fund Call2Recycle’s recycling programs. Both organizations have a long-standing commitment to sustainability through responsible recycling.

Pumping Up Power Tool Rechargeable Battery Recycling

Panasonic-Cordless-Power-ToolIn this spirit of innovation, the Panasonic Power Tools Division and Call2Recycle recently teamed up to launch a new rechargeable battery recycling initiative. The Power Tool Division is a leading manufacturer of construction and assembly tools that include intelligent cordless shut-off tools, low torque cordless clutch tools, cordless non shut-off tools and rechargeable batteries.

 Under this unique partnership, Panasonic and Call2Recycle work with Panasonic’s power tools customers to place Call2Recycle’s distinctive collection boxes at plant assembly lines to collect used rechargeable batteries from cordless tools. Users of Panasonic power tools in North America will now have easy access to recycling batteries on the plant floor. Call2Recycle will recycle all rechargeable batteries packs and cells — including Ni-MH (Nickel Metal Hydride), Ni-Cd (Nickel Cadmium), Ni-Zn (Nickel Zinc), Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) and SSLA/Pb (Small Sealed Lead Acid) — up to 11 pounds.

“Cordless power tools have been rising in popularity in assembly applications. This program takes the next step and delivers a complete solution for keeping rechargeable batteries out of trash and repurposing them for new uses. It’s one more piece of the recycling puzzle at Panasonic,” said John Olson, Industrial Sales Manager, Panasonic.

This new initiative creates a single umbrella program to replace the current patchwork of recycling programs across customer sites. The used batteries will be shipped from the plant to an approved battery processor, which will convert them into new materials used in new batteries or steel alloy. All parts of the battery are responsibly diverted from the landfill per the Basel Action Network requirements. No waste materials are exported out of the country.

“Panasonic has the goal of protecting the environment,” said Olson.  “Call2Recycle gives us the means to do that easily with our partners.”

Education is an important element of the new program.  Call2Recycle is developing and implementing a program to educate customers on how the program works. Call2Recycle reps will work as needed with plant engineers to introduce the program. The program is also being promoted through the Panasonic website via online banners in addition to posters, flyers and postcards. The program kicked off May 1 with the goal of getting as many Panasonic power tool customers on board as quickly as possible.

 Panasonic: A Long History of Recycling

This innovative partner program is just one of the many ways Panasonic has been a driving force in rechargeable battery recycling. When these batteries gained popularity in the early 1990s, no recycling programs existed. Leveraging the public’s growing interest in recycling rechargeable batteries, Panasonic joined four other companies to create the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), now called Call2Recycle, Inc. The industry program enabled electronics manufacturers to voluntarily comply with the growing number of state regulations by collecting rechargeable batteries through retail outlets. Individuals, businesses and municipalities were encouraged to participate at no cost.

Panasonic’s David Thompson, Director of Corporate Environmental Department, played an integral role in forming RBRC. He took a two-year leave of absence from Panasonic to launch and implement this collection and recycling program.  He recounts the numerous hurdles in starting the program:  encouraging other electronics manufacturers to participate; working with UPS to design a collection box that could be distributed, filled and shipped to processors; and convincing retailers to display the collection boxes in their stores. Thanks to the leadership of companies like Best Buy, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, RadioShack, and Staples, the collection boxes have become mainstream in retail stores, adding up to more than 30,000 Call2Recycle collection sites in North America today.

“Panasonic has always been committed to recycling because we produce electronics such as portable DVD players, cameras, camcorders, power tools and the batteries that go into them,” said Thompson. “Since day one, we wanted to present our battery-powered products as something to be recycled.”

Call2Recycle started by collecting Ni-Cd batteries, but now collects all rechargeable chemistries up to 11 pounds in the U.S. as well as all consumer batteries in Canada. As an industry steward, Panasonic took a leadership role in supporting the voluntary collection of Li-Ion and Ni-MH batteries as early as 2002. Although these battery chemistries are not considered hazardous and only a handful of jurisdictions require them to be recycled, Panasonic was the first company to voluntarily support Call2Recycle to collect and recycle them.

“Panasonic participates in the program because it’s an easy way to comply with state and provincial laws in both the U.S. and Canada,” said Thompson.  “More importantly, it allows us to be a more sustainably-focused company—providing both the products and recycling of products. We feature the Call2Recycle seal on all our rechargeable battery products and packaging to encourage our customers to recycle.”

“For almost 20 years Panasonic and Call2Recycle have acted on the shared belief that rechargeable batteries should be safely and responsibly recycled at the end of their useful lives,” said Carl Smith, CEO & President, Call2Recycle. “With Panasonic’s support, Call2Recycle has successfully recycled millions of batteries into new products. We salute Panasonic for leading the industry in the areas of product stewardship and sustainability.”

“Panasonic’s commitment over time is to leverage technology into environmental products,” said Thompson.  He points at the new Panasonic North American headquarters being built in Newark, New Jersey, which incorporates Panasonic’s own technologies to generate energy savings; groundbreaking new products such as Li-Ion batteries powering the new Tesla S sedan and high conversion efficient solar panels; and its award-winning, nationwide electronics recycling program. “We just launched an electronics recycling program with other industry leaders to collect electronics, such as TVs, cameras, camcorders and other products. This will be the largest collection program in the country,” said Thompson.

Panasonic and Call2Recycle’s long partnership has certainly helped Call2Recycle recycle more than 75 million pounds of batteries since its inception. More importantly, the partnership has helped both companies take positive action to promote sustainability through responsible recycling. And for Panasonic, the roots of this philosophy can be traced back even further—to a kitchen table in Osaka, Japan, in 1918.


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