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Chula Vista Awareness Campaign: Residents Learn to Properly Manage Disposal of Batteries and Personal Electronics

Some batteries and personal electronics (PEs) can explode or cause fires when discarded in household trash or curbside recycling bins/carts. In fact, more than 1,800 waste and recycling facilities in North America—or roughly 40%—experienced fires annually in recent years, according to California’s Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling.

Such incidents can harm workers and damage property and equipment in waste and recycling operations as well as pose dangers to nearby communities. Plus, potentially hazardous material in batteries and PEs could be released as pollutants into the air, soil, and water. Given the rapid increase of batteries and rechargeable electronics, this problem is likely to grow in the future.

To prevent such hazards, citizens must know about safe disposal and recycling options for their end-of-life PEs and batteries—the key to which is public outreach and education. That’s why The Recycling Partnership developed a guide and proven messaging to bring awareness of how to communicate and engage community members around how to properly manage the disposal of PEs and batteries.

As part of putting together the guide and an open source portal to help communities communicate the challenge, The Recycling Partnership conducted an awareness campaign in Chula Vista, California, from late November 2020 through January 2021. The campaign sought to inform residents about the fire and explosion hazards of PEs and batteries when discarded in household trash and curbside recycling bins/carts. The campaign also provided information on safe disposal and recycling options, such as the local household hazardous waste (HHW) facility as well as retail drop-off and mail-in options through the Call2Recycle program. The Partnership distributed this information using Chula Vista’s website, social media posts, a press release, digital and bus ads, and a mailer.

To assess the campaign’s effectiveness, The Partnership surveyed residents before and after the project about their knowledge of proper disposal methods for PEs and batteries. The baseline survey showed a high level of proper disposal awareness among residents, with 71% saying they would take them to an HHW facility and 9% saying they would take them to a retail drop-off. Fourteen percent indicated that the products could be disposed in the recycling or trash stream. The post-campaign assessment showed an increase in the percentage of residents who understood the HHW drop-off option to 76%, 9% saying they would take them to a retail drop-off, while the percentage who would discard those products in the trash or recycling stream declined from 14% to 9%.

Assessing the media used in the campaign, residents had a high recollection of messaging—73%—of the mailer, which went to all single-family households (47,400) in Chula Vista. The other media elements—the city website, social media posts, digital ads, and bus ads—also were successful, with the digital ads receiving 5.3 million impressions, the city’s two social media posts in December 2020 having a combined reach of 161,568, and the city’s new battery webpage receiving 15,128 views.

Overall, residents who had seen messaging about what to do with used PEs and batteries nearly doubled from 29% in November 2020 to 53% in February 2021. Infrequent or non-recyclers were much more likely to recall the messaging through social media posts, digital ads, or bus ads than the frequent/always recyclers who recalled the mailer. Though the digital ads ran for almost two months, residents’ recall of those ads was lower compared with the one-time mailer.

When asked what they remembered about the media messages, survey participants recalled seeing information about the location and hours of the local HHW facility (19%), the basic message that PEs and batteries require special handling and should not be discarded in the trash or recycling stream (17%), the words “spark” and/or “explode” (8%), and the caution that PEs and batteries can cause fires when discarded improperly (4%).

Overall, the campaign succeeded in raising Chula Vista residents’ awareness of how to properly manage used PEs and batteries. In the end, almost three-quarters of those who remembered seeing an ad or mailing said they now know more about how to safely manage those end-of-life products.

Between December 2020 and February 2021, the City’s household hazardous waste facility received two to three times more batteries than the prior year. The facility continued to see significant increases in battery collection after the campaign concluded.

Read more about this campaign and best management practices for proper disposal of used PEs and batteries in our new Personal Electronics & Battery End-of-Life Management Guide.

All of these customizable materials and more are available in our open source portal, free for any community or organization to download.

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