Battery risk mitigation: CMA Ecocycle

CMA Ecocycle’s Daryl Moyle discusses a recent shift in the battery and lighting recycling space.

Australasia’s first fully licenced mercury recycler has been hard at work over the years developing its infrastructure and lobbying for change on batteries and mercury-containing lighting waste.  

Through its travels to international conferences such as International Congress for Battery Recycling 2018, CMA Ecocycle has been following global trends in both of these areas with great interest and applying its learnings to its various facilities across the nation.

It has been closely following Australian battery developments, including plans in recent months to design an industry-led stewardship scheme through the Battery Stewardship Council. Likewise, the company is watching the many lithium-driven commercial decisions which may lead to integrated lithium processing businesses with advanced battery recycling. In the lighting space, CMA in June attended the market relaunch of Queensland’s voluntary product stewardship initiative – Exitcycle.

While operating only in Queensland for the time being, the voluntary initiative Exitcycle has partnered with the state government to focus on pulling toxic materials cadmium, nickel and lead out of the waste stream contained within emergency and exit lighting batteries. By becoming signatories, commercial users commit to recycle at least 95 per cent of their end of life emergency and exit lighting batteries. Facilities such as battery recyclers and collectors, electrical contractors and peak bodies can also become signatories to promote the scheme. 

Exitcycle commenced in 2015 and targets the 30 million emergency exit lights currently within Australia’s commercial and public buildings. There is also an initiative specifically focused on mercury-containing lamps known as FluoroCycle. 

CMA Ecocycle’s Daryl Moyle says there have been significant developments nationally in the last year in the broader battery space, which he attributes to a general increase in interest in waste in the community and China’s waste ban spurring an increase in demand for, and a focus on, responsible recycling. He says government initiatives such as the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target scheme have also played a role when it comes to raising awareness on the need to reduce our emissions through responsible management of end-of-life products. 

“The incidence of China and other factors has generated more community activity and awareness in the recycling sector. We’ve had a very notable spike in online inquiries generated from our website,” Daryl explains.

“For instance, we’re finding that facility managers are starting to get their head around battery recycling in high rise buildings and having better recycling tubes or receptacles.”

In terms of Exitcycle, Daryl says the scheme needs to be rolled out nationally and that CMA Ecocycle is happy to partner with them on this given its recycling infrastructure. CMA Ecocycle is a key participant in the scheme and has the capabilities through its lighting waste sorting and processing plants. 

He notes Victoria’s ban on e-waste to landfill will no doubt see further interest in resource recovery as the company begins to roll out a significant expansion in its capabilities around battery recycling. 

“The end markets exist by way of offshore facilities for battery recycling, but I think the opportunity rests here and now in Australia for broader battery recycling programs.” 

A 2018 report Lithium Valley: Establishing the Case for Energy Metals and Battery Manufacturing in Western Australia argues a “Lithium Valley” could be established in WA just as Silicon Valley occurred in California. According to the report, this rationale is based on the science and engineering that show WA has all the basic raw materials and expertise to make it happen, including in Kwinana, Geraldton and Kemerton. 

“Kwinana in WA is becoming a battery materials production area. The mining of this material and the conversion of this into lithium chemicals that go into a battery can also morph into battery recycling,” Daryl says.

At present on a global basis, less than 10 per cent of lithium-ion batteries are returned for recycling.

Another significant benefit of onshore processing is the added safety that comes with safely recycling flammable materials such as batteries. Batteries contain a variety of toxic metals, including nickel, cadmium, alkaline, mercury, nickel-metal hydride and lead-acid, which are particularly detrimental in landfill. 

When shipped overseas or disposed of in general waste, this adds to the fire risk. A California Product Stewardship Council survey of 26 waste facilities in the state found that 83 per cent reported a fire at their facilities, with 65 per cent citing batteries as the source. 

Furthermore, the flammable risk of fires was identified in the Federal Aviation Administration report, Summary of FAA Studies Related to the Hazards Produced by Lithium Cells in Thermal Runaway in Aircraft Cargo Compartments, which showed lithium-ion cells are susceptible to a hazard called thermal runaway propagation in shipping, producing a rapid increase in temperature and pressure.

“We know all over the world there’s been fires generated by lithium-ion batteries. We’re very much focused on safety as a priority,” Daryl says.

While toxic materials such as cadmium and mercury are being phased out, it may take decades before they are completely out of the waste stream, according to the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative. 

CMA Ecocycle recycles all types of batteries to safely recover mercury, lead, silver, nickel, cadmium, steel and plastic. This comes in the form of tailor-made collection solutions for larger businesses, to collection buckets and tubes for smaller cell type and button batteries. 

When it comes to lighting waste, CMA Ecocycle safely recovers mercury by separating components while also extracting glass, aluminium, other metals from lighting ballasts, troffers and fittings and sending them off to be recycled into new products. Daryl says the metal is recycled locally in Australia while CMA is also working a number of new recycling initiatives for the glass fraction. Its service operates in the form of offering businesses boxes and stillages, through to pick-up and provision of recycling certificates. 

When it comes to lighting waste, Exitcycle on its website estimates that 90 per cent of batteries used in emergency and exit lighting are either nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride or sealed lead acid, making it critical to recycle them in the absence of robust markets for alternatives.

“If businesses have an ability to properly recycle and obtain the resources from batteries and to be able to do that in a safe and effective manner, then this increases the viability of collection and sorting,” Daryl says.

“We’re constantly lobbying local, state and Federal Government for environmentally sound management of our waste streams. We see ourselves as leaders in that area. We are not a waste company, we’re not general waste, we are a recycling company in the purest form. We take something and it doesn’t leave the factory unless it’s a component of something else that can be recycled.”