Don't throw those old TV remote batteries in the bin! Nicole Lutze looks at why battery recycling matters and how you can help keep the toxic little blighters out of landfill.
Most people don’t give much thought to the miniature metallic miracles that are batteries. We accept them as a convenient part of our lives and absent-mindedly turf them into the trash at the end of their lifecycle.
However, batteries are a risk to the health of humans and the environment if they end up in landfill, and Australia is lagging when compared to recycling rates across the globe.
Why battery recycling matters
Batteries contain a mixture of toxic components which can leak from their casings. If the batteries are placed in landfill, those chemicals are at risk of seeping into the surrounding environment, contaminating the soil and groundwater, and endangering humans and animals.
Recycling batteries reduces landfill, minimises the amounts of toxic chemicals seeping into the environment, and also reduces the use of finite natural resources in the production of new batteries. Battery recycling also allows for the precious metals within them to be repurposed such as cadmium, lithium, nickel, silver oxide and zinc.
Battery recycling in Australia
With no government regulation for battery disposal, and a lack of public awareness around the risk of placing batteries into landfill, it’s no real surprise that battery recycling isn’t commonplace in Australia.
Planet Ark estimates only 4% of handheld batteries are recycled in Australia, with approximately 11,000 tonnes of handheld, automotive and industrial batteries endings up in landfill every year. We are ranked last behind 28 affiliated countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Switzerland is ranked first, boasting a recycling rate of approximately 72%.
Where can batteries be recycled?
Some private businesses offer battery recycling as part of their business model, including most Aldi supermarkets, Office Works and Battery World.
Once collected in-store the batteries are sorted into chemical types before being shipped overseas for processing. Australia’s first lithium battery recycling centre opened earlier this year in New Gisborne, north of Melbourne, providing Australians with greater access to a recycling facility.
Jared Clark, the Operations Manager of Battery World in the Brisbane suburb or Enoggera, offers battery recycling within his business. He says, “While our store incurs a cost to facilitate the recycling, it’s important we demonstrate to our community that we are accountable and responsible for what we sell.”
All types of handheld batteries can be placed in the recycling drop-off points at stores like Battery World, including those from mobile phones, watches, hearing aids, smoke alarms, torches and any other hand-held device.
To find your closest battery recycling centre, visit recyclingnearyou.com.au
Which batteries are best?
While it’s financially tempting to buy the cheapest type of disposable battery, it is wise to opt for rechargeable.
“Rechargeable batteries reuse the chemical component of batteries over and over again, creating less waste,” says Jared. “It is also financially advantageous over the lifetime of the product. A little bit of extra outlay up front for a quality rechargeable battery can be returned up to 400 times over its lifespan if the batteries are looked after and used correctly.”
He says the technology behind rechargeable batteries has significantly improved over the last decade.
“Nowadays you can charge batteries, put them back in the cupboard, and pull them out in 12 month’s time with only a 5% loss in power. Under controlled test conditions rechargeable batteries have been proven to last up to 2,000 recharges. While general household use offers different conditions, we have rechargeable batteries in my home that are six years old and still going strong.”
Top tips for battery use and recycling
When it comes to using rechargeable batteries, Jared says it’s all about creating good habits and getting into a new rhythm.
Use two old jars to store your batteries. Put a happy face on one jar, and a sad face on the other. This way you’ll always know which batteries are charged and which need to be.
He also recommends you drop off your waste batteries sooner rather than later. “Instead of filling a shoebox with batteries, fill a small jar. The longer the batteries sit, the more chance they’ll leak and contaminate their surrounds.”
“I’d ask everyone to think about sustainability. We only have one chance, and we don’t want to leave the planet in a mess for our kids. We also don’t want to waste all the resources so our children don’t know what lithium batteries are when they’re our age. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”