Australia’s battery recycling problem is deeper than you realise

Australia's battery recycling problem is deeper than you realise
Photo by John Seb Barber via Wikimedia Commons

Batteries are one of today’s most bought and sold products, the amount we use is astonishing, but of course, this is because these days we have a lot more electronics at our disposal. In Australia, this is causing a massive issue as we only has one site able to recycle flat batteries. To make matters worse, China (who had been taking a lot of Australia’s waste) has placed a ban on waste imports, meaning that now all the batteries are either heading to the landfill or this small facility.

The facility lies in New Gisborne in Victoria and has 200 plastic lined drums that are full of 160 tonnes worth of batteries. Now, this may not sound like a much, but remember most consumer batteries are pretty small compared to most other items when it comes to waste. The Company called Envirostream (the owners of the facility) has pleaded to manufactures and the government to help keep the batteries out of landfills.

Research done by the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy found that the waste could estimate 18,000 tonnes in 2018 along with possibly hitting 154,000 tonnes by 2034. This, of course, isn’t including the possibility of a surge in battery-powered cars along with batteries for houses, which has not become popular in Australia just yet. It means that, with the Chinese ban still in place, there needs to be a step up in efforts to properly manage battery waste.

One company has already responded to the call saying that they will transport batteries back to their US headquarters to be recycled there. It is a good start and to be honest no one expected anything less of Tesla, as they have shown in the past their commitment to environmental issues. The question is; will other companies follow suit?

The other issue is how long it takes to sort the batteries. Right now Australia only has the facilities to be able to recycle certain types, with the rest getting sent overseas. Australia cannot handle Nickel-cadmium batteries, and the plant itself must send lead-acid batteries to another plant for processing. The batteries that remain get recycled into steel, copper and aluminium.

The other thing the plant can do is resell the lithium back to the manufacturers. Luckily with this technique up to about 95% of the batteries can be recovered. They hope that with help from the government and private companies, that they can start processing the batteries faster. Along with this, they also hope that people head their warning about not allowing batteries to end up landfill.