Feature

Taking charge of battery waste

batteries

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Wasted space

But often landfill is exactly where batteries end up. Regulations governing battery disposal differ in each state.

In Western Australia, both disposable and rechargeable batteries are classed as hazardous waste; they are placed in steel drums encased in concrete within secure landfills so that air and water can't corrode the battery casings.

In Queensland, by comparison, people throw batteries in the bin with impunity.

The only batteries currently recycled in Australia are the lead-acid batteries that power our cars and trucks; more than 90 per cent are recycled. But moves are underway to establish household battery recycling.

In Melbourne, a free recycling service for household batteries began in June 2007. A joint initiative of Government body Sustainability Victoria, management group Cleanaway and battery manufacturer Uniross, Batteryback provides containers at selected shops where people can drop off their dead batteries.

Sustainability Victoria project manager Liz Richmond says the service began as a three-month trial but will most likely extend to 12 months.

"We are trying to demonstrate that a retail-based battery collection initiative can actually work."

She says the program is stockpiling alkaline batteries to provide sufficient material for a future recycling service in Australia, while Ni-Cds are shipped to France where the useful metals are extracted and reused.

Rechargeables

Part of the reason for Australia's lackadaisical attitude toward recycling Ni-Cd's, according to Uniross' Will Vautier, is that our rechargeable market is still very small compared to Europe's. He believes nothing substantial has been done to promote rechargeables in Australia.

"The main players are interested in disposables," he says.

In 2007, Uniross commissioned the first worldwide study that compared disposable batteries with Ni-MH rechargeables.

In the study, the French company Bio Intelligence Service examined all the impacts of the batteries from raw materials through to disposal or reuse.

It found that for each kilowatt-hour of energy produced, rechargeable batteries have up to 32 times less impact on the environment than disposables. And this included potential impacts on the soil from the disposal of nickel.

The largest supplier of single-use batteries in Australia, the US global giant Energizer Holdings Inc, says it is more concerned with the environmental impacts of collecting batteries for recycling than the impacts of the batteries in landfill.

Graeme Clench, marketing director for Energizer in Australia, points to a 2004 UK Department of Trade and Industry analysis of the life cycle of batteries. It concluded that while recycling does make good use of metals, these benefits are outweighed by the environmental impacts of collection and transport.

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