The business case for battery stewardship and the need for regulation were both promoted at the Enviro 2012 conference, which was held in Adelaide from 24-26 July.
Greg Leslie from Battery World told the story of battery recycling from a retailer’s perspective. When he purchased the Battery World franchise in Townsville in 2005 the store had been closed for several months after its previous owner had been declared bankrupt. Needing to rebuild and market the brand Greg decided to promote battery recycling through local schools. A new superhero – ‘BW’ – was created to visit primary schools and to educate students about the importance of recycling. Cash prizes were provided to winning schools each quarter.
The program attracted a lot of media attention and was popular with customers. Twelve months later the program was adopted by Battery World nationally, and the company now offers the only national recycling program for all kinds of batteries. While recycling began as a survival strategy for one Battery World store, it is now an integral part of the brand. More information is available here.
In another session Helen Lewis, Chief Executive of the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI), argued that a regulated product stewardship scheme for household batteries is essential. ABRI is seeking federal government support for handheld battery recycling under the Product Stewardship Act. While the association’s preference is for a voluntary scheme, regulation appears to be the only option to ensure the full participation of brand owners and importers.
Approximately 264 million handheld batteries reach the end of their useful life each year – equivalent to around 12,000 tonnes of material – and less than 5% of these are recycled.
Helen noted that used lead acid batteries (ULAB) are well serviced, with established infrastructures for collection and recycling from automotive, industrial and back-up power applications. Members of ABRI’s ULAB working group account for at least 95% of the batteries sold and recycled in Australia.
The challenge continues to be the smaller handheld batteries that are widely used in homes and offices, including alkaline, nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride and lithium chemistries. While there are proven systems to recover and recycle all of these, the value of the recovered materials, including zinc, manganese and steel, is not sufficient to cover the costs of collection and reprocessing.
The shortfall is currently paid either by the consumer (as a fee for service) or by local councils and retailers who provide a free service to their residents or customers. As a result, services are limited and most consumers in Australia do not have access to a convenient collection and recycling service. The solution is to develop a product stewardship program supported by brand owners and importers.
Helen praised Battery World for their commitment to recycling. She also pointed to a very positive development in the United States, where Energizer, Duracell, Spectrum Brands and Panasonic are actively working to set up a voluntary recycling program commencing in 2013 (see the Corporation for Battery Recycling). Australia should be able to learn from and build on the US program.