Most portable or mobile devices need power and that is provided by batteries in some form – either rechargeable or non-rechargeable, built-in or replaceable.
All of those batteries have their advantages and disadvantages, some last longer than others, some are cheaper in the long-run, some need more attention than others i.e. charging or replacing.
Whatever the battery, it will need to be replaced at some stage
Before 1996 many household batteries contained mercury. Therefore, it was crucial to keep these materials out of the landfill. Even though batteries manufactured today contain little to no mercury, it is still important to keep batteries out of landfills as they contain various chemicals and hazardous materials.
Even though household batteries are only a small amount of total waste, they are responsible for between 50 to 70% of all heavy metals found in landfills.1
We are dealing with large numbers per capita
According to an article published in the NZ Herald a few years ago 2, the exact number of the batteries in circulation is a matter of speculation, but in Australia, an estimated 353 million portable batteries are consumed each year.
In the United States, about 3 billion alkaline batteries – alone – are purchased each year. This works out to about eight disposable alkaline batteries per person.
In Canada, the numbers were 750 million batteries is 2012.3
It is likely New Zealanders consume about the same amounts per capita, However, unlike the other countries, we have not evolved waste strategies to deal with the potential environmental costs.
In Canada, which may have similar geographic challenges and population densities as New Zealand, a survey in 2011 4 revealed that 51% of Canadian households had dead batteries to dispose of.
The most common method of disposal was taking them to a depot or drop-off centre (43%), while some put them in the garbage (32%) or returned them to a store (10%). As well, 16% of households had not done anything with them.
Very little recycling
The above appears a bit strange as I cannot imagine a single household that would not have dead batteries to be disposed of. One assumption is that 49% just did not answer the survey correctly and either put them into the rubbish knowing it was not a good decision or just stacked them up at home. The fact remains, that out of 51%, only 53% actually recycled batteries, a total of 27%.
Alkaline batteries are one of the most common household batteries and roughly 85% of an alkaline battery can be recycled for reuse.
Approximately 65% of an alkaline battery contains zinc, manganese and potassium which is recovered and used for fertilizer manufacturing. The other major materials in an alkaline battery are steel, paper and plastic. About 25% of an alkaline battery is made up of steel. Once this material is removed it can be used during the production of new steel. The remaining elements of an alkaline battery are paper and plastic, which after it is washed and dried it is used as a raw material in an energy conversion process.5
According to Al Gillespie, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Professor of Law at the University of Waikato, there are three steps required in New Zealand 6:
- Consumer risk awareness by labelling
- Restrictions on battery contents
- Establishment of a recycling scheme
As all our batteries are imported into New Zealand, we are lucky that we can mostly build on overseas laws and standards in regards to labelling and contents. However, we are still falling short of a nationwide public recycling scheme.
A New World store in Lincoln lately made headline when they offered a battery recycling scheme through Lincoln Envirotown Trust and Sustainable Initiative Fund Trust.7
Officially, batteries were accepted through the HazMobile initiative that was running until some time ago, however this Auckland wide mobile hazardous material collection service was disestablished in 2012.8
What’s left to the ordinary consumer is a selection of transfer stations, of which we have four in Auckland: Silverdale, Henderson, Great Barrier and Waiheke.9
No national improvement – au contraire
Meaning that some person from Otahuhu would have to drive to Henderson to drop off batteries (or any other hazardous waste like CFL lights, poison etc). Yet again, it would require you to be well dedicated to sustainability and environmental awareness.
This development is unfortunate and rather backwards.
The Auckland Council website now states that batteries are safest disposed of in the kerbside refuse as the landfills would be safe to prevent leaching of heavy metals incl. mercury.10
However Auckland Council likewise advises that rechargeable batteries like Li-Ion should not be placed into the household waste and advises to contact the “nearest Community Recycling Centre or e-waste recyclers” to find out the best way to recycle these items.
There is no official or organised recycling scheme in place, particularly none that would it easy for the end-user.
At this point in time it is left to the consumer to dispose of batteries responsibly. Car batteries can be easily dealt with by the shops selling new ones. Most of them will recycle your old battery free of charge.
When it comes down to smaller household batteries, this can be more challenging. The author does not agree with disposing them through landfill, even if it seems so easy.
There are various companies out there that do recycling of batteries, however there are usually some strings attached.
http://www.ecotechservices.co.nz accepts batteries for recycling, however from a minimum of 1kg.
http://www.rubbishdirect.co.nz has a battery recycling service available for existing customers, however sorts them and sends them oversea or recycling.
http://www.happyscrappy.co.nz collects automotive batteries only.
One of the well working options that the author has seen is private company initiatives for battery collection and then sending off for recycling by using a battery recycling scheme for example through Rubbish Direct 11.
One would hope that more companies and employers would take up a recycling scheme. Supermarkets would be awesome locations, however council centres and libraries as well.
It is hard to understand why council does not offer collection boxes in their customer centres.
1 Halton Recycling, Ontario, Canada: https://haltonrecycles.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/true-or-false-batteries-should-not-go-in-the-garbage/
2 New Zealand Herald: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10873782
3 Environment and Climate Change Canada: http://www.ec.gc.ca/gdd-mw/default.asp?lang=en&n=52DF915F-1
4 Statistics Canada: https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/dai/smr08/2015/smr08_200_2015#a4
5 Halton Recycling, Ontario,Canada: https://haltonrecycles.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/true-or-false-batteries-should-not-go-in-the-garbage/
6 New Zealand Herald: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10873782
11 Rubbish Direct: http://www.rubbishdirect.co.nz/recycling/battery-recycling