Electric battery waste is a hurdle for recycling industry

Electric Battery

As electric vehicles and home battery systems are becoming more popular around Australia, the recycling industry finds itself facing a new challenge dealing with renewable energy waste. 

With no overarching rules currently in place for how companies, consumers and recyclers should manage the waste occurring from electric batteries, the increased popularity and availability of renewable energy has brought with it new challenges.

Lithium-ion batteries are the most common cell type used in the renewable energy sector, and the waste industry has found itself dealing with the risks of fire, toxicity and the environmental impact that can occur when these batteries are handled or managed incorrectly. 

With battery manufacturer LG Energy Solutions recently recalling 5,000 household batteries due to fire concerns, and car manufacturer Hyundai recalling 1,000 electric vehicles from the Australian market due to fears of an electrical short, battery recyclers are being inundated with large quantities of battery waste that needs to be disposed of. 

Not only does Australia currently lack a waste disposal plan for electric batteries, but there are no current guidelines for how the minerals within the batteries could be recovered. The CSIRO estimates that by 2036 the total recoverable value from electric battery wastes could be as high as $30 billion, but without a structured plan in place most of those minerals will go to waste. 

With customers fronting the costs for batteries, and these finite minerals currently going to waste, the price of adopting renewable energy systems could become more expensive if better recycling methods aren’t adopted soon. 

The Battery Stewardship Council (BSC), an industry-led initiative, is about to enact a product recovery scheme for smaller non-lithium batteries found in e-waste, including those in remotes and watches. The BSC says finding a long-term strategy for recycling the lithium batteries is integral for the future as the renewable energy sector continues to grow.

How to recycle old batteries

While we wait for national guidelines to come into play, there are a few options for how you can recycle any electric batteries you may have. This includes batteries both big and small, as well as other electronics that don’t belong in your regular waste.

  • Take to community recycling centres - so long as they accept electric wastage
  • Book a hazardous waste disposal or chemical cleanout with a private company
  • Some service stations, car dealerships and scrap metal workshops offer recycling drop offs

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