Wednesday, 20 December 2023

One year on from a battery fire that destroyed a recycling facility in Australia’s capital city, the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) is overwhelmingly concerned about increasing incidents involving the incorrect disposal of batteries causing property damage, serious injury and death—with these expected to increase over the holiday period.

As the peak body for resource recovery, recycling and remanufacturing in Australia, ACOR has today released A Burning Issue: Navigating the battery crisis in Australia’s recycling sector, offering expert recommendations for the escalating hazards posed by loose and embedded batteries in conventional waste and recycling streams.  

ACOR and its members continue to raise the alarm that fires caused by batteries are now widespread across material recycling facilities, in trucks, and in depots—in short, at every point across waste and recycling systems. 

The increasing number of ‘smart’ and ‘disposable’ items, containing embedded and sealed batteries, poor product stewardship, a lack of access to safe disposal options and low community awareness, have contributed to the steep rise in batteries in conventional waste and recycling streams. 
Products with integrated batteries, such as electronic toys, flashing Christmas decorations, light-up kids’ shoes, and musical greeting cards typically gifted around this time of year could spell a nightmare scenario for recyclers.

There are critical actions that governments across Australia must take to address these risks, including comprehensive and convenient safe collection locations for all forms of loose and embedded batteries, a community education campaign, e-stewardship reform including a deposit scheme, and regulatory harmonisation and enforcement.

“Over the past year, there were over one thousand battery-related fire incidents reported in the waste and recycling sectors nationwide, amounting to over three a day. It is unlikely that this figure even begins to reveal the true extent of the battery crisis for recyclers,” said ACOR CEO Suzanne Toumbourou. “The cost of these incidents is being borne by the community through rising rates, by councils through truck fires and service disruption, and by the recycling industry in the loss of critical infrastructure and future risk.”

“A major priority is a comprehensively accessible network of collection points for the community to safely deposit loose and embedded batteries, including vapes,” said Ms Toumbourou. “Our urgent plea to the community is to never bin a battery and check for safe disposal locations via the Recycle Mate app.”

“The current number of incidents is only the beginning. The increase of smartphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers, wireless headphones, and other portable gadgets is contributing to the rising presence of batteries, with new battery-power products rapidly entering the Australian market,” said Ms Toumbourou. 

“Vapes are one of the many new products that have been introduced into the market with no producer regard or responsibility for safe disposal at end of use. Estimates show that there is now one vape per two tonnes of material received via kerbside recycling—potentially suggesting hundreds of thousands of vapes across all waste streams,” said Ms Toumbourou.

“Whilst batteries may play a pivotal role in the circular economy and emissions reduction, it is critically important that safe battery disposal and recycling can close the loop. We are urgently calling for the establishment of a comprehensive collection network, robust community education campaigns, holistic e-stewardship reform, and harmonised regulations. These will be essential to stemming fires, protecting recycling facilities and preserving lives.” said Ms Toumbourou.   Media contact: Suzanne Toumbourou, ACOR CEO | 0423 407 467 |

Download A Burning Issue: Navigating the battery crisis in Australia’s recycling sector
Download the full media release here.
The Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) is the pre-eminent industry forum for resource recovery, recycling and remanufacturing, leading the transition to circular economy in Australia. ACOR represents a growing industry that contributes almost $19 billion in economic value, generating broad social and environmental benefits. Our sector collects, sorts and reprocesses material, and makes new products with recycled content, creating more jobs for Australians. ACOR is committed to supporting proactive product stewardship initiatives, to inform better recycling and circular economy outcomes.      Twitter Facebook Website     Copyright © 2023 Australian Council of Recycling, All rights reserved.

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