Australian Battery Recycling Initiative
ABRI's vision is simple: to achieve battery stewardship in Australia

Why recycle batteries?

Batteries provide a portable power source for many of the products that have become important to our way of life; from cars and boats through to laptop computers, mobile phones and hearing aids. Like all manufactured products, however, batteries have impacts on the environment at every stage of their life cycle. The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) was established in 2008 to promote effective product stewardship for batteries to reduce these impacts.

There are a number of reasons why batteries should be recovered and recycled rather than being sent to landfill:

  • Materials such as lead, cadmium, mercury, lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc are used to make batteries. These materials are all non-renewable, can be recycled an indefinite number of times and have a commercial value.
  • Some of these materials, particularly lead, cadmium and mercury, are potentially hazardous to human health and the environment. Disposal in landfill means that there is a risk of heavy metals leaching into surrounding groundwater and surface water. Like computers, televisions, mobile phones, paints, fluorescent lights and all other products containing hazardous materials, it is more resource efficient for them to be removed from the waste stream and recycled.
  • Alternative waste facilities that recover organic materials from the waste stream are becoming more common in Australia. Batteries, in particular, lead acid batteries are often damaged in waste collection vehicles or the early stages of processing, contaminating the feedstock before they can be removed. It is also difficult to remove all of the smaller household batteries once mixed waste has entered the facility. All batteries should be removed from the mixed waste stream to support increased diversion of organics from landfill to high value applications such as compost.

In 2010 ABRI commissioned Warnken ISE to develop a mass balance for batteries in Australia.

The aim was to develop a better understanding of battery stocks and flows, in particular:

  • How many batteries of different chemistries do we consume each year?
  • How many of these are recycled and how many are disposed to landfill?

The study looked at all categories of batteries – handheld, automotive and industrial. It estimated that around 345 million handheld batteries (batteries weighing less than 1kg) are consumed each year. This category includes all of the common household batteries, such as AAA, AA and D alkaline and carbon zinc batteries, as well as more specialised batteries for laptops, mobile phones, power tools, MP3 players, hearing aids etc. Only 6% of these by weight and 4% by count are recycled at present. The majority are disposed to landfill at the end of their life (around 183 million), or informally ‘stockpiled’, i.e. stored or located in electrical and electronic products that are no longer in use (69 million).

The situation is quite different for the larger automotive batteries. Australians consume around 6 million of these each year, and approximately 87% are recycled responsibly (by weight). The remainder are being ‘informally stockpiled’ (e.g. left to accumulate in houses, garages or businesses), ‘rebirthed’ (inappropriately re-branded for resale) or illegally exported. While there is a well-established recovery infrastructure for lead acid batteries, the report highlighted some important gaps, including collection of batteries from remote and regional areas.