Energizer recently launched a new type of batteries made out of recycled batteries – that’s right – batteries which have been dumped at recycling stations are being salvaged to make ‘new’ batteries, the first time it has been done.
It was a six year endeavour that consumed US$20 million, a development triggered by a group of Energizer employees being stunned by the level of waste sitting by the roadside at a battery recycling centre they were visiting.
The initial result – new batteries made out of 4% recycled material or 10% of the key active ingredients. The vision is by 2025, the batteries will be made with up to 40% of recycled batteries.
Idealog recently caught up with Kelvin Belle – Energizer’s global director for product development who was visiting, to chat all things batteries.
Q: Tell us a bit about the Energizer EcoAdvanced battery. What is the big deal?
A: The Energizer EcoAdvanced battery is the world’s first AA battery made with 4% recycled batteries, 10% of the key active ingredient, which is new and revolutionary for the industry because it is the first time any brand has incorporated recycled battery materials into a high performance battery. It’s an industry game-changer.
Q: So can you explain this a little – these new batteries are made from old batteries that we normally throw in the recycling stations? What typically happens to these old batteries before?
A: That is correct – we are taking post-consumer recycled household batteries and including them in the development of new batteries. In the past, recycling of batteries had very low economic value so for example a previous use for those batteries would be road slab. Energizer has worked to create a viable economic solution for recyclers so they can take the battery content that they get from recycled batteries and now introduce it into a new revenue stream in the creation of new batteries.
Q: From what I read, some Energizer staff were visiting a recycling facility where they saw a pile of recycled battery material. This became the project’s genesis?
A: That is correct. Energizer has long been involved with the battery recycling industry and we shared with other companies a strong concern about how to become more environmentally responsible and friendly for the category overall.
There was a visit – Energizer’s chief marketing officer and chief technology officer was in attendance – and they were thinking there had to be a better way. Really that dialogue that came out of that visit is what turned into the EcoAdvanced battery.
Coming out of that visit no one had the solution that it should be A or B or that it should be a battery made with 4% recycled content, we just knew that there had to be a better way than just disposing of the battery and we felt that we could get additional use out of it and that was the challenge that was put before the team.
Q: What process do these old batteries go through to become “new” batteries?
A: The batteries are collected first then recycled for usable content. The content is then shipped to Energizer where we refine, renew and enhance those batteries into high performance, quality materials – very similar to what we would get from virgin material.
This transformation is really the proprietary breakthrough that Energizer and its partners are bringing to the market place because before, it was thought that with a recycled battery you may have to sacrifice on things like performance. An analogy I like to use is sometimes when you buy a ‘diet’ or a ‘better for you’ alternative soft drink or food, sometimes the taste is a little bit different – we can all relate to that. In the case of batteries, it was previously believed (and proven) that when you use recycled batteries or recycled content that performance suffers.
Energizer has spent a lot of time and a lot of money to make sure that consumers don’t have to make a trade off. They can continue to get long lasting performance when using batteries made from recycled batteries.
Q: What is the innovation behind these batteries which your company’s scientists had to produce to get to this stage?
A: The breakthrough for Energizer was two-fold in my opinion. First off, it starts with the consumer. We have to understand the consumer mindset in everything we do. Consumers were telling us that they wanted long lasting, high performance batteries – that is typically imperative to the category – but they also wanted a responsible solution.
So the breakthrough for Energizer was figuring out firstly, how do we refine and restore those materials from a recycled batteries into usable content without trade-offs, and secondly, how do we maintain the long-lasting performance, the quality, the reliability that are also important? We were not willing to compromise in any of these areas so this combination was truly the breakthrough for the EcoAdvanced battery.
Q: From what I gathered, the new batteries contained 4% of recycled material? That’s not a lot, why the effort for such a small replacement? Is there an economic case for this?
A: This is the first AA battery made with any recycled content so 4% of recycled content is important and is significant for the category because it is the first step in our long-term vision for where want the battery category to go.
We have created a viable economic alternative for recyclers because recycling capacity is currently the bottleneck for this technology so by giving them a more economically viable alternative, hopefully that will bring more capacity on line that will allow increases in recycled battery usage in new battery manufacturing.
Today we are at 4%. The vision is by 2025 the batteries will be made with up to 40% of recycled batteries.
This is the latest proof point in our long history of innovation. We also make lithium AA and AAA batteries and a recharge line that is #1 globally in the category. We also introduced the first dry cell battery so you can see we have a long history of category firsts and category #1’s.
Q: The research & development consumed US$20 million? How many man-hours is that?
A: It was a six year effort and the man hours question is a little difficult because there were a large number of people who have contributed to a portion or full time.
In addition there were internal and external partners so it was a very significant overall effort to bring this into the marketplace. We are committed to spending around six times that amount to make it a commercial retail success, so I’m sure you can appreciate the investment we are putting behind EcoAdvanced.
Q: What was the basis of research?
The research was skewed more to the R&D because of the transformation and enhancement piece being a significant investment. As well as doing a lot of it internally we worked with some proprietary partners who had to invest in machinery and equipment so that was a significant portion of the overall spend.
Q: What was the mood in the company like when the idea took off?
At Energizer we are always challenging ourselves to innovate and to continue to push the category forward. We value challenges. I would say the mood was excited, apprehensive, a lot of questions on how would we do it and when could we do it.
Everyone typically wants to do things as quickly as possible but because of our rigorous testing procedures and our unwillingness to compromise it probably took longer than we would have liked but everyone was committed, excited and very happy that we have been able to provide another breakthrough in the category.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the number of batteries used in the world? In NZ? What is NZ’s usage as a % of global usage? What has the trend be? Are people using more or less batteries? What is the global market value for batteries?
The Global Battery Category (including HH and Specialty) is 7 billion cells and worth $5.8 billion at retail. In New Zealand you’re looking at around 30-50 million cells.
I think the average consumer’s use of batteries is about the same, in terms of they have a number of devices they need batteries for but I think their shopping habits have changed - their ‘basket size’ is different than it was.
High performance viable alternatives is the big trend. Less environmental impact and longer lasting batteries also reduces the impact on the environment and that in particular is a growing desire and trend for consumers. We will need to continue and watch that space and we are very pleased to be able to capitalise on that desire in this category with our EcoAdvanced product that fills that need.
Q: Consumers – do they typically buy branded batteries or generic ones that cost less?
A: Consumers tend to buy both. In New Zealand specifically, about 52% of consumers are looking for innovative batteries, which this EcoAdvanced launch certainly qualifies for, and we also know that the majority of Kiwi consumers also like to switch brands so they will buy on price but we are excited that EcoAdvanced has a differentiated message and those consumers who do like to switch will now have a compelling reason to experience this innovative technology.
Q: Will it be a challenge getting consumers to pay more for your ‘recycled’ batteries? What is the retail value in NZ of these batteries?
A: I don’t think so because consumers are accustomed to paying more for longer-lasting batteries. The EcoAdvanced had to be our longest lasting alkaline battery, along with the 4% recycled battery content, to give consumers a viable reason to go ahead and buy this product. Leading with performance along with the responsible solution makes it a really compelling proposition for Kiwis to pay the extra amount.
We did extensive research globally in terms of the acceptance of the proposition as well as the pricing.
Energizer EcoAdvanced AA/AAA sizes
- 2pks - $6.99
- 4pks - $13.25
- 8pks - $21.65