Australia’s new national government-backed recycling scheme B-cycle launched on Tuesday, with a nationally coordinated infrastructure system aiming to make it easy for Australians to collect and recycle single use or rechargeable batteries such as alkaline or lithium batteries. 

Key points:

  • 95 per cent of people are expected will recycle their batteries if they were aware of a drop off point near their home
  • More than 95 per cent of battery materials can be remade into everyday items such as computer parts, new batteries, paint, car tyres, and metal tools
  • When recycling batteries, you must cover the battery terminal (the part that connects to the product they’re putting it into) with clear tape to protect the battery for delivery. 
  • You can find the closest battery recycling drop-off point by entering your postcode into the B-cycle website

B-cycle is a network of independent and accredited recycling organisations with 2351 drop off points  and an additional 1200 regional drop off points to be introduced in the next few weeks. 

Location points include retail stores nationwide such as ALDI, Bunnings, Officeworks, Woolworths, and community organisations such as the Lions Club, and many more. Drop off points, including at Coles, will be added over the coming months as more battery collectors and recyclers become accredited.

B-cycle launched via an online Zoom event on Tuesday, hosted by environmentalist Laura Wells and including an opening address from federal assistant minister for waste reduction and environmental management, Trevor Evans, including a panel discussion with leading industry professionals. 

The B-cycle Scheme was founded by the not-for-profit Battery Stewardship Council (BSC), supported by the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments, authorised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), and funded by the federal government and the battery industry.

The Australian government invested $1 million for the Battery Stewardship Council to establish B-cycle. Brands that are funding the B-cycle scheme include Energizer, Duracell, Panasonic, Super Retail Group, Milwaukee, Stanley Black & Decker, and Makita.

B-cycle was referred to in the launch event as a “stewardship scheme” – meaning that anyone who makes, uses, or sells batteries must take the responsibility to ensure that the materials are circled back into the circular economy “in a safe and transparent manner”. 

Australia’s fastest growing waste stream

Batteries are one of the country’s fastest growing waste streams, due to a growing demand for cordless (and therefore battery-operated) tools. 

There are currently more than 150 million loose or removable used batteries lying around in drawers and boxes in homes across the country waiting to be disposed of, and B-cycle estimates that every year Australians buy enough batteries to circle the planet 2.3 times, while only 10 per cent of batteries in Australia are recycled. 

Sixty three per cent of Australians throw their batteries in the household garbage or recycling bins, according to B-Cycle, with expectations that 95 per cent would recycle their used batteries if they were aware of a nearby drop off point.

The scheme aims to redirect 90 per cent of the used batteries that currently go into landfill, so that the resources can be reused and environmental damage from battery waste can be mitigated. 

When batteries end up in the trash or in a standard recycling facility they can often get punctured, crushed, or contaminated with water, which can damage the separation between the cathode and anode, causing them to explode or catch fire. 

If batteries are put into landfill, potentially hazardous or volatile materials in batteries, like zinc, cobalt, and lithium, can leak into the environment and pollute waterways and soil. 

The Battery Stewardship Council says that nearly all batteries are toxic, flammable, or corrosive in nature, which can pose a risk to families, businesses and waste/recycling workers.

Due to their chemical composition nearly all batteries are toxic, flammable, or corrosive, which can pose a risk to families, businesses and waste/recycling workers, and if placed into landfill will pollute the environment.

Demand for limited resources means we need circularity 

A growing consumer demand for metals means that there is a strong need for a circular economy rather than the current disposable linear economy. 

Batteries contain valuable resources like zinc, lithium, cobalt, graphite and manganese. More than 95 per cent of battery materials can be remade into everyday items we use every day, including computer parts, new batteries, paint, car tyres, and metal tools, says B-Cycle. 

“The materials we rely on for those batteries are in limited supply,” Libby Chaplin, chief executive officer of B-cycle said. “The materials they are made of are needed for future energy, and we can’t just throw them away.

“With B-cycle as a foundation, we have the opportunity to build and expand a dependable battery recycling industry in Australia that is built on the foundations of the circular economy.”

B-cycle ambassador, environmentalist and presenter Laura Wells commented: “B-cycle is the easiest addition to my recycling regime, creating a way for me to actually recycle batteries, stopping them ending up in landfill, and harming our environment.”

Mr Evans said: “All Australians can help Australia move to a circular economy in which we routinely recycle and reuse our waste resources by taking their used batteries including household batteries, power tool batteries, camera batteries, and e-bike batteries to participating drop off points.”

Batteries contain “extremely high value” resources like zinc, lithium, cobalt, graphite and manganese, more than 95 per cent of which can be recycled.

How to recycle your batteries

Batteries have always been recyclable, but until now, there has been no nationally coordinated battery recycling infrastructure in Australia, B-cycle claims. 

The scheme covers:

  • household batteries: everyday AA, AAA and other sizes, including rechargeables
  • easily removable batteries: in cameras, e-bikes, power tools, drones, and more
  • button batteries: in watches, remote controls, car keys, and more

Emphasis during the launch was on the importance of covering the battery terminal (the part that connects to the product they’re putting it into) with clear tape to protect the battery for delivery. This protects the battery from catching fire or exploding during delivery. 

Australians will be able to identify their closest battery recycling drop-off point by entering their postcode into the B-cycle website

“Consumers will be able to access our accredited network of battery drop off points and be confident their batteries are being safely recycled,” said Ms Chaplin. 

B-cycle will introduce more consumer and commercial batteries into the recycling scheme over time, including plans to expand to electric vehicles and energy storage systems. 

“Our objectives over the coming year include to secure the full participation of all importers into the scheme, including e bikes… and we want to expand drop off points,” Battery Stewardship Council chairperson Gerry Morvell said. 

B-cycle says the collaborative network approach will offset the cost of recycling and inject additional jobs into the economy.

A study conducted by Access Economics in 2009 estimated direct full time equivalent employment per 10000 tonnes of waste is 9.2 for recycling and 2.8 for landfill disposal. In another US study from Ecocycle suggests that recycling and reuse create at least 9 times more jobs than landfills, and incinerators create as many as 30 times more jobs.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla says that when recycled correctly, batteries can deliver value “in the many thousands” of dollars.

How batteries are recycled and value-added

Professor Veena Sahajwalla from the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) is a leading expert in the field of recycling science, and founding director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research & Technology at UNSW. 

She said that since batteries contain finite materials with “extremely high value” and that deliver an important service, “we must recycle it in the correct way so that it can deliver value”. 

“These are materials in the many thousands [of dollars] in terms of value… we need connectivity at the micro level to deliver the right outcomes,” she said. 

The materials within the batteries which are already “fit for purpose for remanufacturing and closing the loop” will be isolated with an awareness of the main final product, and what other additional residue will be left behind. The materials will then be harvested in a way that every part of the battery is recycled to create value. 

“For example, if you have a combination of zinc and manganese, the best outcome is to harvest and isolate them in a way that you produce the value-added material and also are able to deal with every bit of residue to make it safe. You don’t want active and reactive residues left behind,” Ms Sahajwalla said. 

“You have to make sure you understand the kinds of materials inside through a proper chemical analysis of all components, and investigate the pathways to monetise and value-add every piece of compound inside. This is where collaboration comes in… collaboration can help to ensure that you can create value from every piece of the product.”

Ms Sahajwalla placed emphasis on the “form, purity and outcome” of the final remanufactured product. 

“The market will pay the price depending upon the quality of the output you create,” she said. “The quality and purity needs to remain high in order to maintain supply and demand of the materials. The economic questions must be asked first, and then followed through with environmental questions to ensure that all the planning is put in place beforehand.” 

Creating value from recycled batteries means that the materials will be kept in the loop and will deliver economic benefits to Australia in the form of new manufacturing jobs and emerging technologies, she said. 

Keeping waste within Australia means that the recycling can be monitored and assessed to ensure that it meets high sustainability standards so that Australia “can become a world leader” in scientific and technological advances when it comes to the circular economy. 

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