Sustainability

Batteries: The unsung recycling hero

By  John Evankovich August 30, 2012

Recycle Car Batteries, Walmart

Batteries often get a bad rap—and, quite honestly, for good reason. As most people know, they’re full of chemicals that can be toxic to the environment. But here’s something that might surprise you:  Car batteries are actually the most recycled consumer product in America, even more than aluminum cans.  And Sam’s Club is working to keep it that way.

Eight years ago, our team saw an opportunity with batteries to reduce our company’s environmental footprint while keeping costs low for members. Today, Sam’s Club – along with Walmart – has one of the largest closed-loop battery recycling programs in the country.

Batteries have three major components:  polypropylene (plastic), lead, and acid. These aren’t the kind of materials any of us want to be casually tossed into our municipal waste systems. So, working with two major supplier partners – Johnson Controls on the west coast and East Penn Manufacturing on the east coast – we’ve developed a process to divert batteries from the waste stream and into a recycling program.

Here’s how it works:  When a member buys a battery from us, they nearly always agree to give us their old battery as part of the purchase agreement. When our suppliers replenish our inventory, they – in accordance with best business practices and EPA standards – take away the used batteries and deliver them to a smelter, where they are broken down into their three major components: The lead is melted down into ingots that can then be used to create casings in new batteries; the poly is washed, cleaned, and then sold; and the acid is either neutralized and sold for other products or put right back into a new battery.

This process is called a closed-loop system because it can be repeated indefinitely without harmful chemicals entering the waste stream. Suppliers use the raw materials from the recycling process to produce new batteries.

Overall, this program benefits everyone involved. It works for Sam’s Club from a cost perspective, it works for our members, and it works for the environment.

We encourage anyone to drop off used batteries – no matter the size – at any of our centers. By doing so, you can help keep batteries as America’s most recycled product.

Read more from John Evankovich

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