Australia is well overdue for an industry-funded battery recycling program
The double-edge sword of technology and its application delivers both benefits and problems. At home, in the workplace and at school, products and devices that depend on energy surround us.
We are becoming even more dependent on portable and mobile devices, which in turn means that batteries are now an essential component of all cordless electronic equipment.
Whether we’re talking about single use batteries or rechargeables, the proliferation of these consumables has boomed, be they embedded in products or loose additions. The disposability of single-use or primary batteries has become second-nature for most users. But with the benefits of portability, miniaturization and mobile energy, we also confront various environmental impacts and issues.
The need to collect and recycle handheld batteries
The overall recycling rate for handheld batteries in Australia is less than 3%. This figure is should be embarrassing for policy makers and waste agencies. It’s also ironic given the pivotal role that battery brands hold in delivering collection and recycling systems in Europe and North America.
Some rechargeable batteries contain hazardous substances such as lead, lithium and cadmium, and can pose a risk to human health and the environment, if not safely handled and disposed of. Batteries can also contaminate otherwise recyclable waste streams such as organics.
Most importantly, community expectations are increasingly showing evidence of the need for manufacturers, brands and retailers to play a more significant role in safely managing their products at the post-consumer stage. This is not new, and we see several enduring schemes and programs (eg. Call2Recycle) around the world where battery brands have adopted a Product Stewardship or Producer Responsibility approach to managing the products they place on the market.
The parlous state of battery recycling in Australia has also resulted in end-of-life batteries (single use and rechargeable) weighing less than 5kg in weight, being placed on the Australian Government’s Product List for potential action under the Product Stewardship Act.
Product Stewardship for batteries
In short, the time has come for some focused and enduring action that connects the principles of Product Stewardship principles, with funding from manufacturers and retailers, to help ensure that batteries do not end up in landfill, and that we recover resources that can be reused in manufacturing new products. It also requires consumers and other relevant stakeholders to play their part and ensure responsible disposal of products through official programs and schemes.
The state of collection and recycling of handheld batteries in Australia is relatively nascent and under-developed, however advocacy organisations such as the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) have been leading the push for a national battery stewardship solution.
ABRI was formed 2008 by a group of battery manufacturers, recyclers, logistics providers, retailers, government bodies and environment groups to promote the collection, recycling and safe disposal of all batteries. Importantly, ABRI’s role includes research, advocacy, education and stakeholder engagement to promote safe and environmentally responsible recycling of all batteries at end of life.
In the absence of manufacturers, brands and retailers delivering a voluntary national recycling service, ABRI is advocating an intelligent approach to co-regulatory intervention in order to compel producers to take life-cycle responsibility for the products they place on the market.
The glaring question is why battery producers have failed to apply their corporate social responsibility principles and programs in Australia, when they do so in other jurisdictions and regions?
Given the growing momentum supporting battery stewardship by numerous key stakeholders, including key government agencies and specialist recyclers, it is likely that current industry engagement activities will deliver a positive outcome. If not, the CSR commitment of battery brands remains in question.
Effective industry engagement
While planning and industry engagement aimed at a national solution is underway, there are several smaller scale battery recycling initiatives that are noteworthy and provide a template for how a more comprehensive national scheme might be achieved.
- Many Battery World stores offer a free battery recycling service for their customers. There are over 70 stores across the country. Click here for details
- ALDI is the first supermarket to offer a national battery recycling program for customers. Click here for details on which batteries they can accept. ALDI continues as the first and only supermarket with a battery take back scheme. Whilst any brand of battery can be brought back, only AA, AAA, C, D and 9V sized batteries (rechargeable and non- rechargeable) are accepted through the program.
- Mobile phones and mobile phone batteries are recycled through the MobileMuster program. They can be dropped off at over 3,500 participating retail stores and local council facilities or returned in a reply paid envelope. Click here for details.
- IKEA stores accept batteries for recycling at no cost to consumers.
- Toowoomba residents can recycle their used rechargeable batteries through the trial Rechargeables BATTERYback program that runs from 8 July to 5 September. Batteries can be dropped off free-of-charge to the public and small business at 14 different locations across the Toowoomba area. Specifics sites can be found at: RecyclingNewYou
- Brisbane residents can recycle used power tool batteries though the pilot Power Tool BATTERYback program that runs in participating Bunnings, Masters and Trade Tools stores until July 15 2016.
- Sydney City Council has established a number of drop-off locations to recycle handheld batteries, mobile phones and light bulbs. Click here for locations. In other urban and regional centres in NSW, Community Recycling Centres are being rolled out to collect batteries and other problem wastes with funding from NSW EPA.
- Emergency and exit lighting batteries are being collected through the Lighting Council Australia’s EXITcycle The first stage is a pilot in Queensland.
- Planet Ark’s RecyclingNearYou website can be a useful source of information about battery recycling services in specific local government areas.
It becomes evident that some industry sectors are more advanced than others when it comes to managing product life cycles, especially end-of-life waste impacts.
The battery industry is one sector where the scope for environmental improvement is considerable, overdue and much needed.
The solution rests with the application of Product Stewardship solutions, be they voluntary or regulated, however adequately funded industry action must be accelerated. The solutions exist. What we need is the commitment of producers, the fortitude of policy-makers, and the demand from consumers.
Come along to the AWRE 2016 Seminar* on Visions for Battery Recycling in Australia, and hear from Battery World, Canon, MRI, Infoactiv, ABRI, Queensland DEPH and the Commonwealth Department of the Environment.
Chief Sustainability Officer
Mobile: 0409 422 089
*AWRE Seminar: Visions for Future Battery Recycling – Thursday 11 August
AWRE will be held from 10 to 11 August at the Sydney Showground. It is the most established commercial event dedicated to the Australasian waste and recycling marketplace, bringing together the industry to generate quality sales leads; discover the latest trends; showcase innovation; network with key waste and recycling decision makers from industry and government; and attend high quality practical seminars and workshops.
- Posted by John Gertsakis
- 0 Comments