The recommitment of funding from the Queensland Government to exitcycle will see better environmental practices adopted, but more leadership from the federal government is required, writes Lighting Council Australia’s Roman Gowor.
June saw the public relaunch of the Exitcycle scheme in Queensland, with representatives from lighting equipment suppliers, recyclers, scheme participants and the state government attending an event at Parliament House in Brisbane.
The Exitcycle scheme is a product stewardship program operating only in Queensland. It originally commenced in 2015 and aims to improve the rate of recycling for emergency and exit light batteries.
There are about 30 million exit and emergency lights installed in Australia, some 90 per cent of which contain nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal hydride batteries. These batteries contain carcinogenic heavy metal contaminants. In fact, cadmium has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 chemicals of major public health concern, alongside asbestos, lead and mercury.
Spurred on by alarming estimates that around 95 per cent of all nickel-metal hydride and nickel-cadmium batteries end up in landfill (some five million cells every year), Lighting Council Australia and the Queensland Government developed a scheme to address the problem.
The Exitcycle scheme was modelled on Fluorocycle, a program aimed at improving recycling practice around mercury-containing lighting waste. The scheme originally commenced under the Federal Government in 2010 and became an accredited product stewardship scheme managed and funded by the lighting industry.
Exitcycle is a voluntary arrangement that links signatories, typically businesses which own or lease buildings and are responsible for the exit and emergency lighting, or businesses that routinely handle the equipment with recyclers and collectors. There is also a role for governments and public advocates in the scheme.
Exitcycle is well-suited to tackle the problem to which it is addressed, particularly as exit and emergency lighting are only handled by electrical contractors. Moreover, Lighting Council Australia, within its membership, covers about 95 per cent of all supply of emergency and exit lights in Australia.
As a result, an industry-led approach that focuses its communication on a relatively small target audience of suppliers, handlers and procurers will achieve positive outcomes alongside other important battery recycling initiatives for other industries and battery technology types.
Looking to the future, the battery technology issue will be resolved in coming years as technology improves and the industry transitions to lithium-based technologies. Many of the costs associated with maintaining an emergency and exit lighting system are through life costs associated with compliance and maintenance rather than upfront costs.
The consequence of improvements in lithium-based battery types is that many organisations have a clear economic incentive to upgrade existing stock to newer generation technology, with some facilities such as stadiums and airports conceivably reducing through life costs by more than 80 per cent. Lighting Council Australia and its members are facilitating this change by communicating to users the benefits of better battery technology and we are committed to ensuring that the legacy waste issue is addressed appropriately.
Viable, long-term waste management solutions require governments, industry and communities to work collaboratively to adopt approaches that provide a coherent framework of regulatory measures, industry-led initiatives and communication strategies.
To date, the Federal Government has shown little interest in advancing a nationwide approach to the emergency battery recycling issue. This is not only disappointing with regard to the seriousness of the waste issue around cadmium and nickel going to landfill, but also because our industry reflects the commitment of 95 per cent of suppliers and proposes a proven approach for improving recycling practices.
A nationwide Exitcycle, coupled with appropriate legislative enactments to support the phase out of cadmium and nickel batteries, effective prohibitions on cadmium and nickel waste going to landfill, and targeted education of handlers and facility managers would be the ideal approach to addressing this waste issue.
Readers from entities with operations in Queensland are able to participate, either by committing to recycle their organisation’s emergency and exit batteries or by promoting the scheme.
To check your eligibility for participation, you can visit:
Lighting Council Australia is the peak body for the lighting industry. Its membership includes 100 of Australia’s leading lighting equipment manufacturers, assemblers and suppliers. As an organisation, Lighting Council Australia leads the development of technical approaches and inputs into national and international standards and committees. The organisation also manages a program of environmental works, including a nationwide mercury-containing lighting waste program Fluorocycle, and a Queensland-based initiative for the recycling of batteries from emergency and exit lights, Exitcycle.
This article was published in the September issue of Waste Management Review.