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How to predict battery recycling success in ‘elusive’ US market

Belgium – Judging how well a consumer battery collection and recycling programme is performing sounds easier than it truly is, according to Carl Smith, ceo of Call2Recycle. ‘€˜Estimating sales of consumer batteries into any given market, as well as determining the amount available for collection is complex and elusive,’€™ he told delegates at the annual Conference for Battery Recycling in Antwerp.

Around 6.7 billion batteries were sold into US markets in 2014, weighing 242.7 million kilograms, said a new report commissioned by North American battery collection scheme Call2Recycle, which recycled a record 3.3 million kilograms (7.3 million pounds) of single-use and rechargeable batteries recycled in the first six months of this year.

Market research proved that, in 2014, alkaline batteries represented over 60% of battery weight sold, while SSLA/Pb and Li-Ion are estimated to be 18% and 12% respectively. Smith announced that over 80% of rechargeable battery units marketed in 2014 were classified as Li-Ion, while less than 40% were marketed by weight.

‘We tried to calibrate sales as much as possible with help of statistics provided by recycling associations and Nielson tracking as well as research partners like Georgia Institute of Technology,’ Smith pointed out.

Lifespan ‘not an interpretation’

Primary batteries were reported to have a ‘significantly shorter’ lifespan than rechargeable batteries, with approximately 80% of alkaline batteries disposed of by year seven. Li-Ion and Ni-Cd batteries don’t reach 80% disposal rate until after eleven or even fifteen+ years respectively. Alkaline batteries will also ‘easily’ last fifteen years or longer.

At a previous conference, Smith had been accused of promoting Ni-Cd batteries over Li-ion batteries due to their long lifespan. ‘But what can I say? The figures are the figures. It’s not a personal interpretation,’ the ceo retorted.

Hoarding and embedding

‘From this data, we tried to build a picture to forecast what sales would look like in 2020,’ Smith noted. This proved to be challenging, partly because the ‘rampant hoarding’ of batteries could not be filtered out of the statistics. Also, the rate at which batteries are being imbedded into consumer products is ‘rapidly increasing’, Smith declared. In light of this trend, in reality, the figures will be ‘a little different’ from what has been calculated.

‘We often talk about producer responsibility. Well, believe me when I say that if ever there was a need for them to claim full responsibility, it should be for embedded products,’ Smith suggested. ‘There is more than just laptops out there. Just imagine sneakers with a light at the heel of the shoe, powered by a tiny battery,’ he observed. ‘How on Earth am I going to be responsible for that kind of thing? It has more to do with the fashion industry than the battery sector.’

Future figures

Over the next five years, the battery category is poised to ‘change substantially’ in sales and mix. For example, the volume of single-use batteries sold into the US is expected to decline by over eight million kilograms, while rechargeable batteries are anticipated to increase by over 13 million kilograms.

Smith revealed that, in 2014, the estimated split of battery sales by weight was 67% primary and 33% rechargeable. This is expected to shift closer to a 60%/40% split respectively by the end of the decade. Although Li-Ion batteries are anticipated to grow by over 5% per year through 2020,

Smith argued that the amount available to recycle will be ‘relatively flat’ from 2014, due to the expected increase in the number of batteries being embedded into products in future years. Meanwhile, almost 10 million kgs of Ni-Cd batteries are expected to be available for recycling in 2020 – ‘even though sales will be a fraction of what they are today’, the ceo stated.

Call2Recycle puts the volume of alkaline batteries available for recycling at 152 million in 2020, compared to 169 million in 2014. For li-ion batteries, this will be 12 million instead of 12.5 million; 166 million compared to 188 million in the case of primary batteries; and 66 million instead of 68 million for rechargeable batteries.

How accurate?

Key takeaways from the report include that since single-use batteries have a shorter lifecycle and are more likely to be easily removed from a product, using sales into the market as the denominator in calculating collection rates and recycling program performance is a ‘reasonably accurate’ methodology.

Contrary to this, rechargeable batteries have a longer lifecycle and, for some chemistries and product applications, more likely to be embedded in a product. ‘Applying a lifecycle model and identifying embedded batteries is the only acceptable approach for determining what is available for collection,’ Smith concluded.

Stay tuned! The full report detailing the conference will be published in our upcoming October issue.

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