Winnipeg battery drive taps community spirit for unprecedented success

Wholehearted community support results in collections of almost 2,300kgs of batteries and cellphones in a week!

Batteries are abundant in Canadian households, powering everything from mobile phones to hardware, toys to computers. Canadians use approximately 670 million single-use batteries a year. But when batteries reach the end of their service, consumers are often unsure of what to do next. Many simply hold on to their batteries, while others put them in the regular waste stream. The latter action has a detrimental impact on the environment, as batteries are considered hazardous waste. Even spent batteries contain chemical compounds and valuable amounts of precious metals, which can be recycled to make new batteries, stainless steel, concrete aggregate and other products. Battery recycling programs have therefore been established in provinces across Canada, to help reduce waste and decrease their environmental footprint.

Call2Recycle® Canada was appointed by the Government of Manitoba in 2011 to collect dry cell batteries weighing less than five kilograms from consumers in the province. With a proven record of environmentally sound battery recycling, Call2Recycle has since collected close to 200,000kg of batteries in Manitoba and diverted them from the waste stream. The successful program partners with local governments, businesses and retailers to offer an accessible network of collection locations strategically chosen for convenience to consumers. But its effectiveness hinges on consumer awareness and willingness to participate in this free service. Innovative approaches are used to educate consumers about the importance of responsible battery management; raise awareness of the Call2Recycle program and its locations specifically; and inspire consumers to act. Call2Recycle’s collaboration with the Winnipeg Public Library offers an excellent case study in how effective partnership and community education can achieve these objectives as well as lasting public engagement and impact.

The Winnipeg Waste Ace Competition

WinnipegWasteAceWinner_2015From October 19-25, 2015, Call2Recycle Canada and Winnipeg Public Library ran a friendly battery collection competition between 20 library branches. The challenge coincided with National Waste Reduction Week and invited Winnipeg residents to show their neighbourhood’s environmental spirit by bringing used batteries and cellphones to their local library to reduce battery waste going to landfills.

The branch—and by extension, the neighbourhood—that collected the greatest weight in old batteries and cellphones during Waste Reduction Week would earn the title of “Winnipeg Waste Ace”. In addition, the branch would be awarded a generous grant from Call2Recycle toward a prize of their choosing to benefit the community.

“Call2Recycle continually looks for fun, innovative opportunities to raise awareness of battery recycling and help our partners increase collection activity. Our battery drive events have proven time and again to be a highly effective way to remind consumers to do their part to keep batteries out of landfills. Educating consumers about responsible battery management is a key element of success, so a partnership with Winnipeg Public Library was a perfect fit,” says Joe Zenobio, Executive Director of Call2Recycle Canada.

At the end of the seven-day drive, the libraries had collected almost 2,000kg of used batteries and cellphones, over 50% increase from when the last contest was conducted in 2013. Moreover, traffic to the library branches increased by over 100,000 compared to the same period last year The winner of the 2015 Winnipeg Waste Ace Contest was West Kildonan Library with almost 250 kg of used batteries and cell phones collected in one week. The winning branch will receive a cash donation from Call2Recycle that will be used towards the purchase of community equipment for its branch.

How the Competition Took Hold in Neighbourhoods

The libraries came up with extremely creative yet informative displays such as Osborne Library’s knitted battery minions, River Heights’ battery kid perched on a high pile of batteries, Transcona’s Halloween themed battery ghost, St James’ Ghostbuster theme and so many more! The City of Winnipeg even noticed the West End Library battery display featuring their staff forming the letters of the word Waste Ace!

There were 2 joint joint winners of the display contest declared: Charleswood Library created 3 amazing displays: The kids’ display featuring a witch in a broomstick trailing batteries, the Adults’ display featuring spooky boxes and informative posters and the Youth display created by their Youth Advisory Committee featuring a garbage monster and clever messaging. Westwood Library also excelled by creating a unique hanging battery display featuring images of their staff holding up batteries, as well as  a clever ‘Follow the Feet to the Contest’ concept.

“Library staff did a great job of seizing this opportunity to share Call2Recycle’s message of sustainable battery use and responsible end-of-life management. Their efforts galvanized their communities and rallied them to recycle their batteries,” says Zenobio.

“Congratulations to the West Kildonan residents for contributing to the Call2Recycle initiative by dropping off the heaviest amount of used batteries and cellphones at the West Kildonan Library, winning the  Waste Reduction Week top prize of $1,500.00!” said Ross Eadie, City Councillor for the Mynarski Ward.

Call2Recycle also promoted the campaign through a media blitz over the radio, TV and press, newsletter and website, and both Call2Recycle and Winnipeg Public Library maintained chatter on Facebook and Twitter to keep awareness and activity high. The social media campaign generated Through a media blitz on the radio and digital banners ads almost 5 million impressions were achieved. An additional 2 million impressions came from incredible coverage across the media in Global News Winnipeg, Winnipeg Free Press, CJOB 680,, to name a few. Our partners rallied around us with another 200,000 impressions through their channels of communications such as the Science World BC website, the Winnipeg Public Library newsletter and the PEI school social media

By the end of the week, Winnipeg residents were more informed about responsible end-of-life battery management and knew where to access Call2Recycle collection boxes.

Key Factors to Success

Several factors contributed to the success of the Winnipeg Waste Ace competition, including the essential participation of each stakeholder—Call2Recycle, Winnipeg Public Library and Winnipeg residents.

The timing of the event was significant. Local governments and environmental organizations across Canada created National Waste Reduction Week to improve environmental awareness. Call2Recycle’s decision to align the competition with this event enabled the program to leverage broader sustainability messages that consumers were receiving throughout the week.

Call2Recycle provided Winnipeg Public Library branches with brochures, posters, window decals, background information and other materials to help each library educate residents and promote the competition.

Winnipeg Public Library, for its part, held an internal challenge between staff for the best in-library promotion of the Waste Ace competition. With a pizza lunch awarded to the most creative branches, the staff embraced the competition, using their experience as educators to creatively inform library patrons about the issues and highlight battery-related and recycling-specific resources in the library. The staff created prominent, eye-catching displays with clear calls to action and disseminated Call2Recycle’s brochures, bookmarks and other materials.

Winnipeg Public Library also shared the branches’ promotions through its newsletter, website and social media channels. This served as a consistent reminder of the competition’s main objective to divert batteries from landfill, while spurring on staff and patrons to share that message widely.

Enthusiasm for the competition cascaded from library staff to patrons to the broader community. Library patrons showed great interest in the information available at their branches, and demonstrated the impact of the messaging by bringing in their batteries. The competition aspect of the battery drive resonated with residents, leading library patrons to invite their neighbours to drop off batteries and demonstrate the community’s commitment to sustainability. The definitive environmental benefit and the potential prize benefit for the community fueled action and the competition’s success.

Sustained Impact

The Winnipeg Waste Ace battery drive was an unprecedented success with more than 2,000kg of used batteries and cellphones deposited in a seven-day period via Winnipeg Public Library branches. Furthermore, traffic to branches for the Contest period was 100,000 higher than the same period the previous year.  The significant environmental benefit of this quantity cannot be overlooked, since 100% of the collection was diverted from landfill. But this diversion does not represent the full extent of the competition’s positive impact on our environment.

The Waste Ace campaign helped solidify the battery recycling message with consumers across the city. Overall collections in Winnipeg continue to grow, as greater awareness and Call2Recycle’s conveniently located drop-off sites make it easy for consumers to do the right thing. In 2014, residents deposited 20,000kg of single-use and rechargeable batteries in Call2Recycle boxes across Winnipeg, a 15% increase over 2013.
Battery collections through Winnipeg Public Library branches remained significantly higher than normal for more than one month after the drive, and have continued to be higher on average than they were prior to the event. In fact, Winnipeg Public Library is Call2Recycle’s largest public-facing collector of batteries across all of Manitoba—a status that earned the organization Call2Recyle’s Leader in Sustainability Award in 2014.

The Waste Ace competition was such a success that Call2Recycle and Winnipeg Public Library are working to team up again during National Waste Reduction Week 2016 to encourage more community members to recycle their old batteries at their local branch.

Ensuring that consumers are aware of sustainable end-of-life options for batteries has never been more important. Electronic waste is growing rapidly and their components can and must be sustainably managed and redirected from landfill. Providing convenient and motivating vehicles for consumers to act responsibly is imperative. Call2Recycle and Winnipeg Public Library accomplished that by combining their respective expertise with clear messaging and an easy action to tap into community spirit and achieve a greater good.

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