The mountain of used batteries going to landfill each year could soon become a molehill under a new national battery recycling scheme to rescue the valuable resource.
The government-backed B-cycle scheme officially begins on Tuesday with the goal of dramatically boosting the recovery and reuse of often-toxic battery components.
Australia is a laggard by global standards. It recycles just 10 per cent of its waste batteries, a far cry from the 71 per cent managed by front-runner Switzerland.
The other 90 per cent wind up at the nation’s dumps, where they contaminate the environment and frequently spark fires that are difficult to extinguish.
B-cycle CEO Libby Chaplin says Australia’s poor recycling rate is madness when the world is so hungry for battery elements that are in limited supply: copper, cobalt, nickel, manganese and the so-called metal of the decade: lithium.
She hopes the new scheme will radically boost Australia’s performance by educating consumers about what to do with spent batteries, and making it easy to get them into the recycling stream.
From Tuesday, Australians can visit bcycle.com.au, punch in their post code, and find a local drop off point. There are more than 2300 to start with — including Woolworths, Aldi, Bunnings and Officeworks stores in city and regional locations.
Others will be onboard soon and The Lions Club has signed up to make sure 1200 smaller locations are covered in the coming weeks.
Ms Chaplin says the nation could have as many as 30,000 drop off points once the scheme has matured.
The most common types of household batteries are covered, like the ones that power remote controls, gaming handsets and fire alarms.
Button batteries will also be accepted along with easily removable batteries from larger devices such as cameras, power tools and even e-bikes. Mobile phone and computer batteries are not included because there are other, established recycling programs for those.
Ms Chaplin says B-cycle, which is industry and government funded, is the first truly national push to capture and reuse waste batteries.
A levy paid by offshore battery manufacturers helps fund the scheme, generating the revenue needed to pay operators who sign up to collect, sort or process batteries.
Participants must earn B-cycle accreditation, submit to audits, and use an app that tracks batteries through the whole recycling journey, from collection to processing.
Ms Chaplin says that having real-time data is one of the great strengths of the scheme.
“If we find, for example, that remote areas are not participating then we can put together some strategies to target that because we really do what this to be a national scheme,” Ms Chaplin says.
Existing recycler, Melbourne-based Envirostream, is currently going through the accreditation phase and says opportunities for growth are vast.
“There’s about 20,000 tonnes of waste batteries generated in Australia a year at the moment but only about 2,000 tonne of that is being diverted from landfill,” manager Max Lane says.
“So there’s a big upside for us if we can divert more of that.”
B-cycle has been set up by the Battery Stewardship Council to boost battery collection and recycling rates, with funding from industry players, the federal and state governments.