Battery Recycling and Reuse Crisis

Addressing the Battery Recycling Crisis in Australia

Total Environment Centre has major concerns regarding the limited scope, performance, and transparency of current voluntary product stewardship schemes for used battery collection and recycling in Australia. There have been significant delays in the development of these schemes, and large parts of the emerging battery market remain out of scope. Collection rates for loose batteries remain well below that of comparative countries, and there is insufficient reporting on embedded or larger batteries. The market for lithium based batteries is growing rapidly, and improper disposal represents a significant risk to the environment and human health.

Total Environment Centre has developed an urgent plan to confront the waste battery crisis. This plan emphasises the critical need for immediate regulatory intervention to establish a comprehensive, mandatory Product Stewardship Scheme (PSS). This scheme would facilitate the safe collection, recycling, and reuse of all battery types.

Get the highlights and read our fact sheet now.

Understanding the Battery Problem

Over 200,000 tonnes of batteries were sold in Australia in 2021 with more than 180,000 tonnes of batteries estimated to reach end of life. Projections indicate the total weight of batteries reaching end of life will increase to more than 230,000 tonnes by 2030, and exceed 630,000 tonnes by 2050. While lithium-ion batteries made up 4.5% of the total weight of batteries reaching end of life in 2021, it’s estimated that by 2050 this will increase to around 80%.

Read the full report now.

Hazardous waste

Batteries contain hazardous materials which are highly damaging to human health and the environment. Lithium-ion batteries in particular represent a significant explosion and fire risk. Worryingly, only 3% were collected for recycling in 2021.

Mining and refinement of raw materials to meet Australia’s increasing demand for batteries has significant environmental impacts on carbon emissions, eutrophication, freshwater eco-toxicity, photochemical oxidation, ozone depletion, particulate matter formation, and water scarcity. Although the impacts of production can be significantly reduced through recycling, this is energy-intensive. The environmental impact can be further reduced if second life reuse were undertaken for suitable battery types. TEC has concerns that the current Product Stewardship Schemes do not adequately adhere to the Waste Management Hierarchy, the first step of which promotes avoiding or reducing the use of harmful or wasteful products.

Ideal Waste management hierarchy Battery Recycling and ReUse

"We need to act now to address the growing fire risks and waste of recyclable resources," says TEC Campaigner, Mark Zihrul. ''Our urgent call to action underscores the need for immediate regulatory intervention to establish a comprehensive, mandatory Product Stewardship Scheme for the safe collection, recycling, and reuse of all battery types in Australia.''

Inefficient Battery Disposal Schemes

The current voluntary industry-led schemes, like Mobilemuster and B-cycle, have dismally low collection rates (~12%), highlighting the inadequacy of current efforts to address the environmental risks associated with battery disposal. There are no schemes that currently cover embedded batteries in personal products, such as vapes, e-bikes, drones, or personal mobility scooters, or larger Li-ion batteries such as home battery energy storage systems or electric vehicle batteries.  

Australia has fallen behind progressive countries tackling this problem. TEC believes it is to establish a single independent, accountable administrator to oversee an effective PSS that embodies the circular economy and is capable of ensuring these valuable resources are safely recycled. 

Action Delayed too Long

The development of national Product Stewardship Schemes for battery recycling in Australia has been delayed since handheld batteries were first prioritised by the Minister for Environment in 2013. Significant market segments are still unaddressed nearly a decade later. The Battery Stewardship Council was established in 2018, leading to the B-cycle scheme's launch in January 2022 and subsequently batteries were removed from the 2020/2021 priority list. This was based on the anticipation of the scheme's launch, without evidence of its effectiveness or comprehensive coverage. 

Voluntary schemes like MobileMuster, with consistent low collection rates of 7.5 to 12%, demonstrate the limitations of non-regulatory efforts to achieve higher recycling standards. The current schemes are not capable of requiring all importers and producers to meet higher standards of battery production; provide funds; use greater proportions of easily recycled and renewable material; or reduce the use of hazardous materials. Only a fully regulated response can achieve those outcomes, and swift determined action from the federal government is required to make that a reality.

Read more about the issue in our full report and the fact sheet.

Total Environment Centre's Recommendations

Governments say they recognise circular economy principles as crucial for solving the waste and recycling crisis. The current voluntary schemes are inadequate. We should not wait till they fail.

Urgent action needed for battery recycling Crisis

The following recommendations promote adherence to the Waste Management Hierarchy, and encourage effective product stewardship in line with the measures identified by the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence.

  1. Implement a national ban on batteries to landfill: This approach is already in effect in Victoria and proposed in Queensland.

  2. Establish mandatory product stewardship for all batteries with targets for redesign, collection, resource recovery and minimum recycled content for new batteries: This would unify the management of all battery types, eliminating distinctions based on their characteristics, and ensure a sufficient levy pool to fund the scheme, which should be managed by a single administrator, separate from network operators, to prevent conflicts of interest.

  3. Mandate meaningful targets: The Federal Government should set ambitious collection and recycling targets, similar to EU standards, including collection targets, specific resource recovery rates, minimum recycled content requirements for new batteries, and quantifiable achievements to reduce waste, and the promotion of the use of recovered materials.

  4. Delegate limited authority to the administrator

  5. Consumer incentives with access to safe collection networks: Conduct a nationwide gap analyses to ensure access to safe recycling points for all Australians. 

  6. Empower and support recyclers with fair pay

  7. Educating the community and promoting use of recovery materials in new and existing markets

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