Handheld batteries are a major fire risk in established recycling facilities and immediate action is needed to remove them from the general recycling stream, according to the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR).
ACOR CEO Pete Shmigel is calling on environment ministers to establish a national battery product stewardship and recycling scheme, with robust manufacturer participation.
“As a result of the digital age, battery consumption is going up by about 300 per cent per year and millions of post-consumer batteries are ending up where they don’t belong, which causes not only environmental harm but increasingly fires and occupational health and safety risks,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Analysis by ACOR shows that a national battery recycling scheme would cost less than one per cent of a typical battery’s retail price, and that seems a very small contribution for manufacturers to make to ensure better environmental and safety outcomes.”
According to Mr Shmigel, only three per cent of batteries are recycled in Australia, compared to 70 per cent in Europe, which has long-established, government-mandated schemes.
Mr Shmigel added that many batteries end up in household kerbside recycling bins as a result of “wishcycling.”
“Batteries that wrongly end up in our industry’s established materials recovery facilities for packaging or scrap metal recycling operations are known to explode as a result of heat and pressure from normal operations,” Mr Shmigel said.
“We are now consistently experiencing the operational and cost impacts, and should not wait to see somebody hurt.”
Outside selected retailer initiatives, Mr Shmigel said there is no alternative, comprehensive or accessible way for Australians to present used batteries for recycling.
“What we have in Australia is not recovery but malarkey. For nearly a decade, there’s been chain-dragging from major battery manufacturers and governments on setting up national programs, where all consumers can easily recycle their used batteries, just as they can their computers, TVs and mobile phones,” Mr Shmigel said.
Mr Shmigel said battery recycling solutions were put forward by industry and NGOs at the last two Meetings of Environment Ministers, however no substantive decisions were made.
“In the meantime, insurance premiums in our industry are known to have increased by five-fold per year in some cases due to increased fire risk,” Mr Shmigel said.
“Because we have very limited to no control of batteries coming into our facilities, that’s a totally inappropriate cost shift when producers are not taking appropriate responsibility.”