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Fires ignite debate on battery recycling and disposal

Rubbish collection services are at risk as workers face daily fires caused by improperly disposed batteries, with the industry demanding urgent action on battery collection points.

Jun 21, 2024, updated Jun 21, 2024
B-Cycle, the national battery recycling scheme, accepts common types of household batteries, including those that power remote controls, gaming handsets and fire alarms. Image: Unsplash

B-Cycle, the national battery recycling scheme, accepts common types of household batteries, including those that power remote controls, gaming handsets and fire alarms. Image: Unsplash

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek will on Friday meet with her state and territory counterparts to discuss better ways to manage battery disposal.

Waste and recycling workers operating facilities and trucks are facing increasing risks every day as fires ignite from lithium-ion batteries, the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia said.

It is demanding immediate action to come up with a solution to the battery fire crisis enveloping the industry, calling for collection points in all states for all batteries, while the plan is developed.

Australians are throwing away $600 million to $3.1 billion of valuable materials in lithium batteries by not recycling them, a Future Batteries Industry Cooperative Research Centre report has found.

Chief executive Gayle Sloan said batteries must be diverted from kerbside bins, trucks and facilities as they were not designed to collect these potentially incendiary devices.

“Our industry is fast approaching a time when we will not be able to insure our trucks and facilities, which will mean services to the community will be in doubt – and this is not something we say lightly,” she said.

“Our workers and facilities need to be safe, just like every other industry. We cannot continue as is with the rate of fires.”

The Association for the Battery Recycling Industry backed calls for urgent action on the safe disposal of batteries, with a strategic focus on technology.

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B-Cycle, the national battery recycling scheme, accepts common types of household batteries, including those that power remote controls, gaming handsets and fire alarms.

But does not take mobile phone and computer batteries because there are other established recycling programs for those.

The industry is also calling for community education about how to dispose of batteries and what products to buy.

Thirty-nine per cent of Australians don’t know how to correctly dispose of lithium-ion batteries, according to a consumer watchdog survey of more than 4000 people in 2023.

Lithium battery volumes are projected to grow from 32,000 tonnes to more than 100,000 tonnes over the next decade, largely driven by electric vehicle and energy storage batteries reaching end of life.

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