New laws for recycled batteries proposed

Australia’s Environment Ministers have resolved to consider new laws to require battery manufacturers to collect and recycle used batteries.

It comes after recommendations from the industry-led Australian Battery Recycling Initiative Industry Working Group, who proposed the establishment of a national recycling program for rechargeable batteries under 5 kgs.

State ministers agreed to consider stewardship approaches at their next meeting, with potential regulatory options to underpin a voluntary scheme and other options as states see fit.

Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles welcomed the support of other states for Queensland’s work towards increasing recycling rates.

“This is the first time ministers have agreed they may need to consider a legal response to low rates of battery recycling,” Mr Miles said.

“Queensland has led separate recycling trials for power tools and rechargeable batteries and partnered with Lighting Council Australia to pilot a program for emergency and exit lighting batteries.

Mr Miles said an estimated 400 million batteries (or 17,500 tonnes) are sold each year in Australia and about 14, 750 tonnes reach their end-of-life every year.

“Many batteries are recyclable and for some such as lead acid car batteries the recycling rate is about 90 per cent. But the current recycling rate for the rest of the batteries is very low, with fewer than three per cent returned for recycling,” he said.

“Queensland has led the national effort to increase recycling, but its increasingly clear a voluntary scheme may not be enough. The collection trials showed that people want to recycle their batteries they just need a way to do this.

“We want to start with rechargeable batteries such as those found in power tools and other products like laptops and mobile phones as these are the ones that contain some of the harmful chemicals and are able to be more easily recycled.”

The annual Meeting of Environment Ministers also discussed plastic bag bans, container refund schemes and climate change.

Ministers endorsed the National Market Development Strategy for Used Tyres, which outlines actions for the next five years to increase the uptake of tyre-derived products in road, rail and civil engineering applications.

State and territory ministers also agreed to work with retailers to look at options to reduce thicker plastic shopping bags, possibly under a voluntary code of practice.