Europe reaches 44 per cent battery recycling collection rate

Around 44 per cent of batteries sold in Europe were collected for recycling, with Belgium reaching 70.7 per cent, according to new data from the European Union’s statistical office, Eurostat.

In total, the data found around 214,000 tonnes of portable batteries and accumulators were put on the market in 2016, with around 93,000 tonnes collected for recycling, meaning more than twice the amount of batteries that had been put on the market than were collected.

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Luxembourg reached 63.4 per cent collection rate, with Hungary and Lithuania reaching around 53 per cent. Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom achieved collection rates of around 45 per cent.

The EU target for collection rates of portable batteries was set at 45 per cent in 2016, meaning 13 EU member states did not reach the target.

Australia has a comparatively low recycling rate of batteries, with the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative finding only three per cent of batteries are recycled and 70 per cent are sent to landfill.

To improve Australia’s battery recycling rates, the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has called for a regulated product stewardship program for batteries by 2020.

The NWRIC said such a low recycling rate means regulator intervention is the only option.

“With a combination of sensible regulation, targeted investment and consumer education, almost all of Australia’s used batteries can be safely recycled. This would reduce the risk of fires at recycling facilities and minimise the contamination of compost,” the organisation said in a release.

NWRIC calls for regulatory battery product stewardship scheme

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has called for a regulated product stewardship program for batteries by 2020.

It has called on the Federal Environment Minister to broaden the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) to include all types of handheld batteries up to five kilograms.

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Under the NTCRS, more than 1800 collection services are available to the public which could be used to include batteries, according to NWRIC.

Lithium ion batteries pose hazards in kerbside recycling bins, potentially leading to spontaneous combustion if pierced due to mechanical handling in waste collection trucks and recycling facilities.

Lithium, nickel, lead and cadmium are finite resource in waste batteries that can be highly recyclable if correctly separated.

According to the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative only three per cent of batteries are recycled, with 70 per cent being sent to landfill.

NWRIC said that such a low recycling rate means regulator intervention is the only option.

“With a combination of sensible regulation, targeted investment and consumer education, almost all of Australia’s used batteries can be safely recycled. This would reduce the risk of fires at recycling facilities and minimise the contamination of compost,” NWRIC said in a release.

New team, same plan: NWRIC

Improved planning, consistent standards and value for money landfill levies remain the core focuses of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council into 2019, writes the organisation’s new Chief Executive Officer, Rose Read.

While I hope to bring new leadership and insights to my role as Chief Executive Officer of the National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) – the core mission of the NWRIC remains the same.

After more than 30 years in the industry, Max Spedding has retired. He is well respected for his ‘steady hand’ management style. Following his lead, Alex Serpo, NWRIC’s Policy Officer, and I will continue to work for a cohesive national vision to advance Australia’s waste management and recycling industry.

The NWRIC was set up to bring together all of Australia’s waste management and recycling businesses and create a shared national vision for a fair, sustainable and prosperous industry. NWRIC’s membership and affiliates include representatives from every state industry body, including the majority of Australia’s nationwide waste management and recycling companies.

In addition to the immediate challenges presented by China’s National Sword and the forthcoming introduction of the landfill levy in Queensland, the NWRIC has identified three major national challenges facing the industry. These are creating and applying consistent standards, improving planning for waste and resource recovery facilities and getting the best value from landfill levies.

These priorities will form the basis of the NWRIC’s activity for 2018 and 2019. It’s worth addressing each in detail.

CONSISTENT STANDARDS

First: standards. The entire industry is premised on them, as their absence means waste generators could simply dump waste into the environment in an uncontrolled way and put the public and employees at risk. The consequences of this are visible in countries which have no standards, or who don’t enforce their standards.

Success in this arena means both creating robust national industry regulations and enforcing them equitably. Specifically, the NWRIC believes there is a need for a national landfill standard and harmonisation of levies to prevent levy avoidance. We also need more work on illegal dumping.

PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL

Next: planning. Landfills and resource recovery facilities are very difficult to move. As a side note, it is theorised that the largest man-made object on Earth is in fact a landfill.

It’s essential landfills and resource recovery facilities are put on the right site the first time. Good quality infrastructure planning can create enormous dividend for the public, industry and government. Since the need for new waste and resource recovery facilities is inevitable as population grows, forward planning is essential to meet community, environmental and economic requirements.

Effective road access and buffers will reduce or eliminate the public disturbance of these sites. Without reliable planning, industry can’t confidently invest in new infrastructure. Historically, bad planning decisions have set the industry and the ability to recover materials back many times.

HYPOTHECATE LEVIES

Finally: levies. From 2019, it is expected the states will collect close to $1.2 billion per year in landfill levies. As their name implies, landfill levies are ‘levies’ and not taxes, and therefore technically should be hypothecated back into the waste and recycling sectors.

Today, less than one quarter of levies collected are invested back into waste management and resource recovery. With levies on the increase across Australia, governments can now invest more into planning, infrastructure, education, standards and enforcement of regulations.

The mechanism of levy re-investment is important, and by far the largest cost is large infrastructure development. In the April 2018 edition of Waste Management Review, the NWRIC suggested the establishment of a ‘recycling bank’ to distribute a proportion of the levy funds via loans. This ensures levy funds are spent effectively, leveraging private investment so that the funds collected from businesses and households go further. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation shows the success of this model.

Beyond these large scale structural challenges, we are also working on two acute problems. The first is the new landfill levy for Queensland, which is expected to raise close to $200 million per year. The details will be important, and many unresolved questions remain. For example, will the levy apply to bagged asbestos? (Hint: it shouldn’t.) Will enforcement be effective enough to ensure legitimate businesses aren’t undercut by levy avoidance?

The second challenge is the continued impact of the Chinese National Sword policy, which has resulted in a collapse in prices for commodities recovered from kerbside recycling. In the wake of this market shakeup, materials recovery facilities are still in trouble. Kerbside collection services, which have received decades of investment, should not be allowed to collapse.

As the NWRIC has previously advocated, the first step is to clean up what is going into kerbside recycling bins through strong public education programs. In worst cases, kerbside recycling bin contamination is running as high as 40 per cent. Meanwhile, we believe the national average is 15-25 per cent. This figure needs to be reduced down to 10 per cent contamination at the most.

To kick this off, the NWRIC in partnership with the Australian Council of Recycling and the Australian Local Government Association has launched the Recycle Right program. A simple and clear recycling message to be applied nationally on what does and more importantly does not go in the yellow bin.

While the challenges facing industry are significant, they all have well understood solutions. We have the funding and expertise to advance the industry. The NWRIC will be stepping up to promote these solutions.

ABOUT:

Rose is a seasoned CEO with experience leading both commercial and not-for-profit organisations, including AMTA’s MobileMuster and Clean Up Australia. In her more than 20-year career, Rose has focused on a strong collaborative approach to implementing product stewardship and natural resource management initiatives through multi-stakeholder engagement.

ALGA and NWRIC strategise to protect kerbside

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) and the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) are working on a strategy to protect kerbside recycling in response to National Sword.

At the May 15 NWRIC meeting in Sydney, ALGA President David O’Loughlin met with industry leaders to discuss a solution to National Sword.

Industry leaders agreed to work closely with local government to quickly respond to this crisis and maintain all scheduled collection services for households.

“Households across Australia want to continue recycling,” said NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards. “As such, we are working with the ALGA on a strategy to protect this valued service.”

In the short term, the NWRIC said in a statement that new state government initiatives that reduce contamination are needed to improve product quality and to prevent further stockpiling.

“All communities must help respond to this recycling crisis by not putting non-recyclable materials and food waste in their household recycling bin. Only clean metals, glass, paper and hard plastics can be recycled. Our message to communities is: ‘When in doubt – throw it out’,” the statement read.

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Mr O’Loughlin said that to resolve this crisis, all states, territories and the Commonwealth need to work with us to provide certainty that recovered resources can be profitably used within Australia. He said that this is the only way we can ensure the long term success of Australian recycling.

Mr O’Loughlin said that in some jurisdictions, food waste can be placed in the green bin, leading to greater levels of organic recovery, and increased sales volumes to farmers and wine makers. He said these programs are a leading example of how to the close the gaps for a circular economy.

“Once relief funding is in place from state governments, many of which are sitting on millions in unspent landfill levies, we can commence putting in place new initiatives to create much cleaner materials from household recycling bins,” he said.

The NWRIC statement said that Queensland was the first state to engage with all stakeholders to review its kerbside recycling services at a Bundaberg forum, more on that here.

Both the NWRIC and the ALGA have urged all other states to undertake a similar recycling forum to develop collaborative solutions.

 

NWRIC calls for recycling taskforce and welcomes Queensland levy

The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has called on each state and territory to form a recycling task force to review their current practices and establish sustainable recycling activities for the future.

It comes in response to the Chinese National Sword program, which imposes vastly higher contamination standards on recycled materials exported to China. Materials exported must now have 0.5 per cent contamination or less – compared to five to 10 per cent previously.

The NWRIC said this program has caused an unforeseen and sudden crash in the price of recycled materials. It has also left a significant volume of material ‘stranded’, with no end market available. Preliminary Commonwealth figures suggested that 1.25 million tonnes of material was exported to China in 2016/17 – including 920 thousand tonnes of paper and cardboard, 203 thousand tonnes of metals and 125 thousand tonnes of plastics.

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In this context, the NWRIC is calling on each state and territory to establish a recycling task force to review and improve current practices and develop new processes to protect and advance domestic recycling. Challenges the task forces could address include:

  1. Products to accept in household recycling bins.
  2. Education to reduced contamination.
  3. Recycling labelling.
  4. An approach to glass collection.
  5. Maximising value from container deposit programs.
  6. A review of packaging design and reuse.
  7. A review of how landfill levies effect recycling.
  8. A review of contract conditions for recyclers.

The NWRIC also believes this challenge creates an opportunity to establish a leading approach to container deposit programs that will support and protect material recovery facilities. Further investment and innovation can target a higher quality output for use in Australian remanufacturing, it added.

The organisation noted that an effective response on the Chinese National Sword program will require intergovernmental involvement coupled with wide industry representation. Each task force should include representation from planning departments, EPAs and change management agencies such as Sustainability Victoria or the WA Waste Authority.

Further, NWRIC believes the task forces should include state and national local government associations, state and national industry bodies, the Australian Packaging Covenant and remanufacturing companies.

In other news, the NWRIC also supported the new waste strategy announced by the Palaszczuk Government, but cautioned that a potential landfill levy must create jobs and investment for Queenslanders. If a levy is implemented, the NWRIC supports the recommendation of the Honourable Peter Lyons QC – that a levy must apply to all waste generated in the state – not just commercial waste. This recommendation was also echoed by Queensland Treasury in its Interim Report – Economic Opportunities for Queensland’s waste industry .

In a statement the NWRIC said that if implemented, a waste levy must be applied over the largest area possible in order to prevent unnecessary waste transport, or be applied based on where waste is generated.

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“It must not be set at a rate or structured in a way which makes recycling less viable. For example, where recyclate such as scrap metal is being exported, the cost of disposing of shredder floc must not make Australia’s exports less competitive,” the NWRIC said in a statement.

The NWRIC said that the imposition of a landfill levy could also generate funds which can be reinvested into infrastructure planning, education, enforcement of standards and grants for innovation and research. Where money is given for infrastructure investment, it should be distributed via low interest loans and be equally available to all industry players.

“The NWRIC expects the introduction of a landfill levy in South-East Queensland will stop the unnecessary interstate transport of inert waste, with as much as one million tonnes estimated to be flowing out of NSW in South East Queensland in the last year. NSW must also take responsibility for this problem.”

“One solution to this problem is for NSW to bring into force its new Minimum Standards for Managing Construction and Demolition Waste, as soon as possible. This standard contains important initiatives designed to stem the flow of interstate waste and promote the development of new recycling infrastructure.”

The NWRIC said that if implemented, two important policy programs must also accompany a universal and fair landfill levy. Without these programs, improvements in resource recovery will not be possible. Firstly, Queensland must provide ‘resource recovery precincts’ for waste and recycling infrastructure which are protected from residential and commercial encroachment.

Secondly, states must empower regulators to effectively enforce standards equally across the industry. The private sector will not invest into recycling when they can be commercially undermined by those who do not obey the law or submit to regulatory standards.

“Effective planning for waste management and recycling infrastructure will ensure the public is not adversely affected by these essential services – while landfill levy revenue could be used to fund new and ongoing enforcement initiatives,” said NWRIC Chairman Phil Richards.