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  QUESTION: Implementing an environmental education program re: lead acid battery recycling, 11 Sep 2006, Western Australia 

To whom it may concern,
I am a student currently studying Environmental Science at Murdoch University. I am in second year and am undertaking a unit in which i have to implement my own environmental education program. I have chosen to incorporate a local business that recycles car batteries to raise awareness on the issue of recycling used lead acid batteries. I was wondering if you have any information which would be useful or any advice.
Kind Regards.
ANSWER: 11 Sep 2006

Dear Sir,
What an excellent idea. I assume that the general public, notably people who drive cars and are likely to change their own battery, are your main target audience. Or are other stakeholders in the target audience too, like, local businesses with car fleets, local councils, car-repair shops, scrap-metal collectors, the staff of the local lead acid battery recyclers (I assume you mean that they simply collect and ship the batteries somewhere because I am unaware of a secondary lead smelter in Western Australia (WA) where batteries would actually be recycled)?

The first useful fact to research is the number of on-road (and perhaps off-road if these are also collected) vehicle batteries collected for recycling as a percentage of the number of batteries sold in any one year. The main way that battery recycling is falsely regarded as being around 100% of batteries sold is to NOT manage to get accurate figures on the number of batteries collected for recycling so you'll need to be very persistent to get this vital piece of data. Every time I question the high recycling rates that are published by the lead industry, I hear a whole range of reasons why the figures might not be accurate: eg in the US and Europe (apparently) due to greater heating required in vehicles or some such, the life of a battery is around one year, whereas in Australia, car batteries last on average two and a half years. Thus you would be comparing apples with oranges if you take the number of batteries collected for recycling in one year and compared it to the number of batteries sold in that same year in Australia. Then there's the issue that the battery that is sold in a new or used car has to be counted as well as replacement batteries, and the more serious issue that it is claimed by one scrap metal recycler, (see Submission to NSW DIPNR) that instead of being recycled for their lead and plastic content (and having their sulphuric acid dealt with appropriately) many batteries are thrown into the body or boot of an old car in order to bump up the weight when the whole car is recycled and if this is a heat or high-friction process, then a lot of the battery content ends up as emissions to air and then contributes toxics to the "flock" which is exported overseas. But I figure, that as long as you explain all these factors, then it would be most enlightening to get numbers over a series of years so that you have a hope of determining a general pattern and can make some general estimate of the number and percentage of batteries sold that must be being dumped in the environment.

The second piece of research the results of which will focus the public's attention on the social justice issues of buying car batteries (and thus cars) is to find out where the batteries that are collected in WA actually go for recycling. One way that you may be able to convince the local lead acid battery collector that you are working with to, for instance, fund/support some of your education program (or print leaflets for you or agree to go on radio or be interviewed by the local paper) is to be sure that the batteries they collect are legally recycled. As far as I am aware, there are only four legal options as to where your local collector can ship their batteries for recycling (in order of proximity):

"Update 2012: The capacity to recycle used lead acid batteries (ULAB) in Australia is increasing. There are five recycling facilities:

  • Renewed Metal Technologies (RMT) (Wagga Wagga)
  • Australian Refined Alloys (Sydney)
  • Hydromet Corporation Ltd (Unanderra)
  • Simstar Alloys Pty Ltd (Melbourne)
  • V-Resource (Brisbane)."

Under the Basel Convention, in order to ship lead acid batteries from Australia for recycling in any non-OECD country, our federal Department of Environment and Heritage must grant a licence and the onus is on anyone applying for that licence to prove that the recycling will be done safely and to date, no-one has.

One very useful source of information on this issue, in case you are interested to check up on what happens to other lead acid batteries collected in WA, is Bob Angel at Hazardous Waste Section, Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), email [email protected] or ph direct 0262741627, or Hazardous Waste 0262741411. You may want to particularly ask for more detail as to whether any shipments from Western Australia were seized [Refer to "Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts Annual Report 2009-10 - Legislation annual reports 2004-05: Operation of the Hazardous Waste (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1989" at  which states: "Enforcement action this year included detection of illegal shipments of electronic waste and waste batteries"]

The third piece of research you may be interested in pursuing is the international politics of the issue and a good starting place for you would be at  Trade And Environment - A Teaching Case: The Basel Ban And Batteries

 You may also want to check out the info on lead acid batteries in the slide show that I presented at the Minerals Council of Australia conference last year - see Ceiling Dust  - which is a big reminder of the power of graphics and even film in getting your message across. So maybe you should take a camera with you whenever you're out in the local area, to snap any lead acid batteries you might find dumped in the street or at council tips etc. If you find a really good shot, ask the local paper to send a photographer (unless you happen to be a good photographer yourself).

I'm sure there are many more things you could do, but hopefully these are some ideas to get you started.

Good luck with the project and please email again, especially if you produce something that we could publish on our website.
Thanks
Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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