ABRI has called on the Australian government and all state and territory governments to support regulation of handheld batteries under the Product Stewardship Act. ABRI defines handheld batteries as those weighing around 1kg or less. This includes a wide range of batteries by application, size and chemistry including AA, AAA, C, D, 9V, button and lantern batteries.
The Australian government is required to publish, by June each year, a list of products that the Minister may consider for voluntary certification or regulation under the Act in the next financial year. ABRI’s preference is for a voluntary product stewardship program, funded by brand owners and importers. However, without the support of key brand owners, some form of regulation will be required.
Handheld batteries meet all of the criteria for a product to be considered for regulation under the Act.
Batteries contain hazardous substances
Batteries contain heavy metals that are toxic to human health and/or have eco-toxicity impacts if they exceed certain minimum concentrations in the natural environment. Lead, mercury and cadmium are particularly toxic, but other metals such as zinc can also be a concern if they leach into water or soil.
There is potential to significantly increase the recovery of non-renewable resources
ABRI estimates that less than 5% of handheld batteries (by count) are currently recycled at end of life. Around 183 million (8,000 tonnes) are disposed to landfill each year, and this represents a loss of valuable, non-renewable resources.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 96.5% of household batteries are disposed of in general household waste or at a general area at the dump or transfer station. These batteries are most likely to end up in a putrescible landfill. Many batteries also end up in landfill embedded in electrical or electronic products.
There is potential to significantly reduce the impact that batteries have on the environment, and on the health and safety of human beings, through increased recycling
The recovery and recycling of batteries will reduce pollution from landfills. As batteries start to break down in landfill, particularly in an acidic environment, heavy metals can leach into surface and groundwater. This is a concern because 15% of large landfills and 65% of medium sized landfills in Australia are unlined.
Using recycled metals rather than virgin material avoids the environmental impacts associated with mining (such as land degradation, waste and energy use). The manufacture of recycled materials also requires less energy and generates less pollution than the manufacture of virgin materials.
Removal of batteries and other electronic products from household waste will help to support the production of high quality organic products from alternative waste facilities. These facilities process mixed household waste and/or source-separated organic wastes to produce organic products such as soil conditioners and mulch. Batteries and
other hazardous products make it more difficult for operators to meet stringent quality requirements.
There is growing support in the Australian community for battery recycling
A survey by Planet Ark in 2010 found strong consumer support for battery recycling:
- 80% said that end of life batteries should be recycled
- 75% said they would ‘definitely’ recycle batteries if there was an easy way to do it.
When asked who should be responsible for bearing the cost of battery recycling, the most commonly nominated group was battery manufacturers (nominated by 36% of respondents).