6 April 2023

No excuses for not keeping batteries out of the main recycling stream

| Ian Bushnell
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battery recycling bin

Just do it: a supermarket battery recycling unit near you. Photo: Woolworths.

When it comes to sorting your rubbish, what does it take for some people to get it?

The Hume recycling plant went up in smoke late last year because people couldn’t set aside household batteries for bins found at just about any supermarket in Canberra.

Battery remains were found inside the compacter at the site, and lithium batteries in particular were blamed for the blaze.

The cost of the fire itself remains unknown, but the ACT Government estimates it has cost $1.4 million of our money so far to transport recyclable waste to facilities in Sydney and Victoria.

All because of ignorance, laziness or wilful neglect.

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It’s the same attitude that continues to contribute to recycling bins being contaminated with other materials, creating inefficiencies and reducing the benefits of the circular economy.

I’ve lost count of the number of yellow top bins overflowing with oily pizza boxes that can’t be recycled.

Or recyclable material going into landfill because people find it too hard to separate it from basic rubbish, or simply won’t.

The other day I saw a tradie throw a sealant tube into a bin clearly marked for cardboard at my new residential complex, and bagged rubbish is constantly going into the recycling bins.

Some neighbours can’t even flatten the seemingly never-ending cartons that accompany moving in, clogging up the bins.

But that pales in comparison with the danger of tossing batteries, especially of the lithium kind, into the recycling bin.

A national battery recycling program, B-cycle, kicked off in January 2022 and there are drop-off points across the ACT, as well as at Mitchell and Mugga Lane.

The damaged Hume recycling facility

The interior of the Hume recycling facility was extensively damaged. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

For those who don’t know, there are fines of up to $800 for incorrectly and illegally disposing of batteries.

The government will now embark on an education campaign with the NSW Government and regional councils on the safe disposal of all types of batteries.

That’s another cost to taxpayers, but worth it if it prevents another fire that could be more devastating.

But will the government also start looking at stiffer fines or an inspection regime to police our bins, like in Melbourne?

There, inspectors tag contaminated bins, which are not emptied.

That might be enough to convince recalcitrants to do the right thing.

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But is that what Canberra really wants to see?

In fact, a trial of bin “educators” ended in March last year, where households received a tag with recycling advice.

If anything, the fire shows there are real consequences for not keeping certain materials separate from each other, especially batteries.

But it is a costly way for Canberrans to be reminded.

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HiddenDragon7:43 pm 10 Apr 23

Tempting as it would be for our resident authoritarians to establish an ACT Bin Stasi, there are at least two major problems with that idea.

The first is the not uncommon practice (so I am told) of people who sneak around after dark, or in the early dawn, and put some of their rubbish in neighbours’ bins. At present, this presumably is done for the practical reason that said folk have more rubbish than their own bins can cope with. If we get to the stage of penalties and shaming for bin sinners, it would also become a very tempting option for neighbourhood narks who want to settle scores over slights and injustices (real and imagined).

The other (and far more compelling) problem is that it would seriously risk stirring ACT Labor’s bogan support base from its political slumbers – and that could be a very dangerous thing for a government which is otherwise able to get away with a lot of posturing because it generally takes care to ensure that the posturing has limited practical impact on Boganberra.

As others have noted, the realistic answer is clear, consistent, regular information – starting with the Our CBR propaganda leaflets, which presently look like an exercise in promoting someone who looks like a somewhat younger version of the Chief Minister.

GrumpyGrandpa7:22 pm 10 Apr 23

Who did it? Was the person being irresponsible, did they do it deliberately, do the live in the ACT or were they a visitor?
Pointless questions.

People are human and make mistakes. Some people don’t care, kids are too young to understand consequences. Sure try some Education; but despite Education, we still have drink drivers, people who speed, people who litter, people who walk in front of LR.

With the prevalence of Lithium batteries in our lives this type of thing was going to happen eventually and sadly, it could happen again.

While these batteries appear to be common “disposable” batteries, it does raise questions about
Lithium, in general. Is it really the environmental saviour that it’s been promoted as.

Capital Retro4:29 pm 10 Apr 23

The disposal method of “dropping” them on top of other “dropped” ones is risky and flawed.

Broken or cracked cases can allow moisture and oxygen to enter the battery and oxidize the lithium components, causing a heat reaction. This can lead to fires or explosions. Overheating, overcharging and shock from dropping or crushing can also cause heat reactions to occur.

The stores who have these disposal containers should review what they are doing.

Better publicity on where to dispose of batteries is essential, as many do not know and others are not aware of the risks of putting them in the rubbish bin.

There’s no evidence that this was done by Canberrans, as it could have been a visitor just chucking their dead camera battery in a nearby bin after replacing it with a new one from the shop. Clear unmissable notices on batteries of the risks would help, along with info on safe disposal options.

Education and inspiration is much better than punishment. In Canberra many people come from other places and don’t know what’s available here, where to go or what to do as often things are not well-publicised and newcomers are busy just getting themselves and their families organised.

The local council (ACT govt) should regularly communicate such information (as other councils do) instead of expecting people to seek it out. They could make their newsletters informative and useful, instead of just being full of spin and self-congratulations. Real estate agents could be providing essential info on ACT residency to new tenants and buyers.

The suggestion of tagging and refusing to empty bins that are contaminated may work for houses, but not apartment complexes with shared bins. The same goes for fines. It’s time for the ACT government to step up to its job providing local services and information to support the functioning of our territory, rather than grandstanding on fringe issues and pet projects.

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