Industry Stewards: The Hidden Benefactors of Recycling
If you look back 20 years, the recycling world was a different place. The 1996 passage of the law (which required all 50 states to adhere to the Universal Waste Rule) marked a milestone in the long journey toward adoption of a federal policy on hazardous waste transportation and disposal.
Manufacturers of products that created hazardous waste, including rechargeable batteries and products containing those batteries, were scrambling to find a way to avoid environmental liability for the disposal of their hazardous waste. Producers deemed in violation of recycling regulations could be severely penalized. Companies had seen firsthand the fallout from being designated as a Superfund site and did not want to be caught in the same position.
At the same time, the idea of industry stewards emerged. Stewards could pool resources to create a program that would responsibly recycle the material they introduced into the marketplace and educate consumers on the programs.
Product stewardship is defined as reducing the impact of products on the environment during their lifecycle by influencing consumer behavior, financing the products’ end of life disposal and improving product design. Industry stewards are the companies that have stepped forward and have committed to at least some aspects of product stewardship by financing and operating programs, often to comply with local, state/provincial and federal mandates that ensure the proper end-of-life disposal of their products.
Role of Industry Stewards
Industry stewards play two important roles in any product stewardship program–voluntary or mandated. First, they help to provide the strategic direction. They provide insights on changing regulatory policies, upcoming legislation, the nuances of the products that they put into the marketplace and related technology advancements.
Stewards also fund the program. For example, in the rechargeable battery recycling industry, Call2Recycle, Inc., the leading consumer battery collection program in North America, collects fees from its stewards based on what they sell into the marketplace. The fees are used to pay the operating costs to collect and responsibly recycle batteries and to improve public awareness of the program. In exchange, stewards place a seal on their batteries and/or battery-powered products and documentation. The fees are used to run the collection operations, promote participation and educate the public.
Stewardship is a complex concept that involves maintaining a delicate balance among stakeholders with different priorities, opposing constraints and diverse definitions of success. These stakeholders include policymakers/non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry stewards and retailers/consumers.
For example, policymakers and non-governmental organizations desire unlimited accessibility to collection sites, aggressive collection targets and superior service but may not focus on the cost to attain these service levels. Retailers and consumers demand convenience and/or accessibility but at little or no cost. Companies that act as stewards want to fulfill their mandated obligations and regulatory requirements, prevent lawsuits, avoid bad publicity but at the least possible cost.
No stewardship program can fully satisfy the needs of all stakeholders. A successful product stewardship program cost-effectively balances their interests while minimizing risk.
The key is balancing the sometimes conflicting and overlapping issues among the groups and recognizing that the needs are constantly changing. The greater the common ground, the more influence, credibility and impact the recycling organization has on its stakeholders.
Tenets of Stewardship
Call2Recycle is the voluntary battery recycling program created in the early 90’s to satisfy organizations’ increasing requirements placed on them by state/provincial laws. It has also become a powerful advocate for product stewardship, bringing together the diverse interests of its stakeholders in pursuit of a shared goal to keep battery waste out of landfills and protect the environment. Through its recycling program, Call2Recycle ensures the materials are diverted for use into new products, including batteries. Participating stewards are able to translate their corporate sustainability goals from words into action.
Industry stewards expect a high level of integrity under the tenets of product stewardship. That’s why most product stewardship organizations operate according to industry standards. Call2Recycle was one of the first organizations of its kind to be certified under the rigorous Responsible Recycling® (R2) standard and earn an e-Steward designation under the Basel Action Network (BAN). Both designations assure stewards that operations follow the highest standards of responsible recycling and every step is taken to mitigate the environmental liability associated with landfilling, reselling on the black market or shipping battery waste overseas.
Another tenet of stewardship is compliance with extensive state, provincial and federal regulations. Call2Recycle not only operates according to these regulations, but also streamlines the compilation and submission of the required reports to regulatory bodies. With the number and complexity of the regulations across North America, this task can be onerous for individual companies.
The final tenet of product stewardship is industry advocacy. When battery chemistries began evolving from nickel cadmium to lithium ion and nickel metal hydride, Call2Recycle voluntarily expanded its program to include these chemistries. Call2Recycle has also been a leading proponent of battery recycling legislation, including support for a model bill with the intent to introduce it in several states.
Two Decades of Industry Stewardship
The industry steward model first adopted by Call2Recycle 20 years ago has remained a core facet of its success. The original five industry stewards in 1994 have grown to include more 300 leading battery and electronics manufacturers. The milestone of 100 million pounds of batteries collected by Call2Recycle proves that industry product stewardship is one of the best ways for companies to achieve their corporate sustainability and recycling goals.
Carl E. Smith is a nationally and internationally recognized spokesperson and leader in the corporate responsibility, sustainability and product stewardship arena. As CEO and president Call2Recycle — North America’s first and largest battery stewardship and recycling program — Smith leads the organization in its efforts to help preserve the environment through responsible recycling of batteries.
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