The National Waste and Recycling Industry Council (NWRIC) has welcomed the ACCC authorisation of the Battery Stewardship Council’s national battery recycling scheme, however cautions that with major battery importers yet to sign up to the voluntary scheme, its efficacy is in doubt.
NWRIC CEO Rose Read said while the recycling scheme was long overdue, for it to play an important role in removing batteries from mainstream waste, all importers must be on board.
“We need to get batteries out of rubbish and recycling bins and into separate collection and recycling channels. Stopping fires in trucks and at processing facilities, as well as contamination of compost are proof points for the scheme’s implementation,” she said.
“This scheme is a step in the right direction but has been a work in progress since 2013. A start date of late 2021 is far too long, and there’s no confirmation that all the major importers are involved.”
The Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association (CESA), in a letter to the ACCC in July this year, said their members including Duracell, Energizer, Eveready and Varta had not agreed to sign up to the voluntary scheme.
According to Read, the scheme’s viability relies on a levy imposed of four cents per 24 grams – the weight of an AA battery – on batteries imported into Australia, with the money used to pay recyclers to collect, sort and process the batteries.
“A big concern is that if all the battery producers and importers aren’t signed up, particularly as CESA members account for over 50 per cent of the Australian market, there won’t be sufficient levies raised to fund an effective national scheme,” she said.
“There’s also concern that the ACCC’s approval will not address the free rider issues, which will limit the scheme’s ability to divert batteries from landfill as well as removing the current risks faced by collection and sorting staff.”
NWRIC has long been calling for a regulated product stewardship program for batteries to protect staff, critical infrastructure and maximise resource recovery.
“For the scheme to be successful and gain public trust, NWRIC encourages the Battery Stewardship Council to ensure there is strong governance and transparency in place,” Read said.
She added that there should be clear separation between scheme management and service providers ie. collectors and recyclers, public tenders for collection and recycling service providers and regular public reporting on annual targets and achievements.
“There would be much more confidence in the scheme being successful if it was regulated under the Product Stewardship Act to ensure all producers are contributing their fair share and there is transparency on performance in diversion of batteries out of red and yellow bins,” Read said.
“There also needs to be equity for collection and recycling providers, and for the community to have free, readily available access and knowledge of the service.
“With a combination of sensible regulation, targeted investment and consumer education, almost all of Australia’s used batteries can be safely recycled.”