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Australia tries to solve its dead battery problem.

Editorial Staff

Dots, here's a line. We hope you like being joined up.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission has "granted authorisation" for a scheme to collect and recycle batteries. The scheme, known as "The Battery Stewardship Council," was originally launched in 2918. In December 2017, Elon Musk's Tesla company installed the then biggest Lithium-Ion battery in the world in South Australia. This week, it's been announced that its size has been increased.

Membership of the scheme is voluntary. According to the Commission, "The Battery Stewardship Council (BSC) will be able to establish and operate a
national scheme for managing expired batteries under an authorisation granted by the ACCC" today.

The Commission says that it's a scheme that is funded by its members agreeing to pay a levy.

"Batteries imported by members of the scheme would attract a levy of four cents per 24 grams (the weight of a AA battery). Rebates would then be paid to recyclers to help offset the cost of collecting, sorting and processing expired batteries. Members of the scheme must agree to only deal with other members along the supply chain, with limited exceptions such as for pre-existing arrangements.

The BSC estimates that only about 3 per cent of hand held batteries in Australia are recycled. Most batteries go to landfill."

So, that's why it needs authorisation: it's a cartel in which members set certain terms and refuse to deal with non-members.

It's a cartel that the Commission considers is for the public good, so that's all right.

“This battery stewardship scheme has the potential to be an important tool for encouraging businesses across the battery supply chain to take responsibility for treating batteries in an environmentally responsible way,” ACCC Deputy Chairman Delia Rickard said."

But the Commission is looking at this as a part of another problem it's trying to contain: that of the risk to children, in particular, from button batteries. Australia reports both deaths and casualties from children, some very young, swallowing button batteries.

"In order to address this issue of consumers potentially storing button batteries for later recycling, the ACCC has imposed a condition requiring BSC to develop a button battery safety strategy within 12 months. The strategy is to be guided by an advisory group involving the ACCC, relevant industry bodies and medical and child safety experts."

This does seem to be a high-level approach to a low-level problem and it makes a presumption that consumers will keep dead button batteries. There is no data offered to support this contention.

The scheme fills in gaps in existing schemes: "The scheme is intended to manage all types of end of life batteries except for automotive lead-acid batteries and batteries that are currently included in a stewardship or recycling scheme (such as the embedded batteries covered by the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme or the mobile phone batteries covered by MobileMuster."

With a four year authorisation, the question is whether consumers will buy in and use (if they exist) battery deposit bins - or whether discarded batteries can be extracted from general waste in sufficient quantity.

There is law. The 2019 National Waste Policy Action Plan https://www.environment.gov.au... has indicated an intention for all state Governments to develop a common approach to restrict the disposal of priority products and materials in landfill,
starting with lithium ion batteries and e-waste by 2021. The Victorian government banned all e-waste https://www.sustainability.vic... , including all
batteries, from landfill from 1 July 2019.

The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) has published guidelines https://batteryrecycling.org.a... on the safe and responsible use of button batteries. These guidelines are specific to button batteries and include the following tips when recycling expired button batteries:
* As soon as you have finished using a button battery put sticky tape around
them to:
* make them less attractive to children
* prevent short-circuiting, and
* avoid the low risk of having them catch fire.

* Once taped, store batteries in a child-proof container.
* Take batteries to a designated battery recycling drop-off location."

The scheme operators propose to offer the following "rebates" to recyclers:

* AUD2.50/kg for battery collection in metropolitan areas,
* AUD3.50/kg in regional and remote areas (to account for increased costs and
logistics),
* AUD1/kg for sorting, and
* AUD1/kg for processing.

So that leaves the one big question: exactly what is going to happen to that enormous battery that is currently providing power to 30,000 homes and, apparently, has saved consumers AUD116 million since December 2017 and has been expanded this week?

It will be interesting to find out.