B-cycle is charging ahead with battery recycling

B-cycle batteries

B-cycle has had an action-packed first 12 months and members are determined to find more ways to give dead batteries new life with battery recycling. 

B-cycle, Australia’s official battery stewardship scheme, always set out to radically disrupt the market.

One year on, and Libby Chaplin, Chief Executive Officer of the Battery Stewardship Council, says this is well underway.

Within its first year of operation the scheme has collected 1.9 million kilograms of batteries – equivalent to 81 million AA battery units. It launched with 2300 drop-off points and now numbers more than 4000, with 285 organisations involved in the collection and recycling network.

“It’s quite remarkable,” Libby says upon reflection. “Being the first year we knew there was a lot to do, but we didn’t anticipate it would grow this quickly. 

“We always thought the unique leveraging model we opted for was the right one. We’re happy with where we are. We have achieved our goal to disrupt the market.”

The processing journey of recycled batteries. (Positive Charge 2022)
The processing journey of recycled batteries. (Positive Charge 2022)

B-cycle is about creating a responsible battery life cycle, from buying better batteries to safe use and convenient recycling to keep batteries and their contents out of landfill.

Designed by industry, authorised by the ACCC, and accredited by the Commonwealth Government, the scheme is funded by a levy on battery imports. While most other schemes have contract arrangements with a collection network, B-cycle opted for an accreditation model for participants at all levels. Members also agree to give purchasing and supply preferences to others in the network. 

Libby says this has meant the collection and recycling network is an open process and has allowed quicker engagement with the market.

“I think it’s a nice blend between having the authority that provides regulatory framework but allowing industry to design, implement and improve to create something that really works,” she says.

There’s been lessons learned along the way. There’s an adage: it takes a community to build a village, and Libby says that’s been the case with B-cycle.

Members have worked closely with B-cycle to help understand on-the-ground realities of the scheme and adjusted accordingly. 

Libby believes the scheme is working for the good of everyone involved but there are improvements to be made.

“We’re still refining the scheme process to be more efficient on the ground so we can really understand where the difficulties might be and where we need to focus our attention for improvement,” she says.

“One of the emerging challenges has been the increasing number of fires in general waste and kerbside recycling collections, as a result of inappropriate disposal of batteries. Consumers now have a convenient alternative and can find a dedicated battery recycling drop-off point by using the bcycle.org.au website.”

Libby says a big part of communication now is to never dispose of batteries in kerbside bins, and to encourage the community to tape the terminals of used batteries for storage or drop off.

“Taping with non-conductive tape such as clear sticky tape or electrical tape doesn’t eradicate the issues but it does help, particularly in the case of button batteries where a little bit of tape can not only prevent a fire but can save a child’s life by making the battery less attractive to swallow,” she says.

In its first year B-cycle has collected 1.9 million kilograms of batteries – equivalent to 81 million AA battery units.
In its first year B-cycle has collected 1.9 million kilograms of batteries – equivalent to 81 million AA battery units.

Libby worked in the United States for 15 years, specialising in electronic waste. She says internationally, protecting battery terminals is standard practice. Making it part of the B-cycle message is a small action that can have a big benefit.

Another action capable of a big impact is traceability.

The battery recycling industry has come a long way in the past year in understanding the value of traceability and is in a better position to know where batteries are coming from and having traceability to their end-of-life.

Libby says the scheme represents an important opportunity to build capacity within the industry to prepare for emerging waste streams such as batteries from electric vehicles and energy storage systems. 

B-cycle is in discussions with the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and the Motor Trades Association to ensure an effective stewardship model is delivered for that sector.

“We want to understand where the challenges and opportunities lie, what support is needed to build capacity and provide solutions into the future,” Libby says.

Likewise, B-cycle is working now to ensure there are good collection options for light mobility batteries such as those used in e-bikes and e-scooters.

“It’s a new stream but will be growing exponentially,” Libby says. 

“At the moment, Australians are buying enough batteries to circle Earth 2.3 times, by 2050 it’s estimated to be 37 times. It’s essential to build industry capacity and raise awareness in the community.”  

For more information, visit: www.bcycle.com.au

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