Currently, Australia does not have the means to recycle all of it’s batteries. Rather, we export largely to countries like Korea, France and Belgium. While it is positive that we do, however small, recycle a proportion of our dead batteries, I’d like to highlight three major reasons why recycling processes should be kept within Australia.
1. Health Risks
In Australia, alkaline and lithium batteries are considered ‘hazardous waste’ and so need an export permit. In other parts of the world this is not the case and the means of exportation and reprocessing have looser restrictions and less regulation. This can make the process of exportation and reprocessing dangerous to the people who work in them.
Particularly in Asia, Africa and South America, the value of reprocessing the lead from lead-acid batteries has meant a significant increase in this industry. Lack of proper knowledge about the health risks associated means there are large quantities of informal processing. Often these large or small scale operations are in urban, densely populated areas. Lead can be absorbed into the body and attacks the nervous system, heart and kidneys. It is a particular risk to children and infants as their tissue is more vulnerable to their damaging effects.
2. Environmental Impact of exports
The environmental risks associated with improper disposal of batteries is obvious to most people. But we, myself included, don’t often think about the pollution created by exporting large quantities of used batteries over long distances. Exporting often requires several different means of transportation, whether it be air, road, rail or sea. Transporting batteries within Australia would decrease the pollution created, especially if it was supported by a national scheme present in every state and territory.
As mentioned above, informal recycling processes that takes place in third-world countries are on the rise. Informal processes also creates pollution, as they are often uncovered while being melted. The remnants of battery casings can be discarded and left to the elements where they contaminate the surrounding soil and water sources.
At the present time most battery recycling requires a fee for service, as the value of the recovered materials cannot match the cost of collection and reprocessing. This discourages both producers, retailers and consumer to recycle their dead batteries. If reprocessing was within Australia, the cost would decrease making it more viable for business. A government and commercial supported national scheme would allow national sustainability, both environmentally and finically.
While Australia does impose regulations to where used batteries are recycled, the risk of improper processing would be completely stopped if all recycling took place within Australia.
What do you think? Do you believe it is sustainable for Australia to recycle batteries within Australia or is there a environmentally sustainable and healthy way to export?