Each year in the UK we throw away about 620 million batteries, so every possible step should be taken to ensure that they don't end up in landfill. Jason Cracknell explains how to achieve this.
23 October 2014
Batteries contain a variety of relatively rare precious metals that are also toxic to us and the environment - including lead, cadmium, zinc, lithium and mercury. It is obvious that we shouldn't throw them in landfill, but how well does your facility deal with dead batteries on site?
You can cut this waste by reducing the batteries your business uses. Switch to rechargeable types, better charge methods, clever battery monitoring systems and advanced battery test devices to get the full life out of a battery.
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 introduced a 'Duty of Care'. Anyone who imports, produces, carries, keeps, treats or disposes of waste must take all reasonable measures, and this applies to batteries:
- To stop another person illegally treating, keeping, depositing or otherwise disposing of the waste;
- To stop the escape of waste; and
- To ensure that transfer of the waste only occurs to an 'authorised person' and that the transfer is accompanied by a written description of the waste.
This is to stop waste producers handing waste over to anyone prepared to take it away without considering whether it will be dealt with properly.
In 2009 the European Union introduced the Battery Directive with rigorous rules for manufacturers about how batteries should be recovered, treated and disposed of. A retailer or distributor selling or supplying more than 32 kg of portable batteries must offer free collection ('takeback') of the waste at each premises supplying the batteries.
Businesses that place more than a tonne of batteries on the UK market in a year must join a producer compliance scheme. These finance battery collection and disposal technologies by charging their members as well as recording recycling data for the Environment Agency.
As an FM at a site that isn't manufacturing, selling or distributing batteries, you should be collecting batteries from your site for recycling as part of your duty of care. One obvious measure of sustainability as part of an annual environmental audit is to cross-reference the amount and type of batteries used and the corresponding proportion collected for recycling by using battery 'banks'. Make the collection points highly visible and accessible to increase collection rates. Positive feedback to staff, showing the number of batteries collected each month is a good way to encourage staff to ensure that batteries are not being slipped into general waste.
Quiz your waste management supplier about what happens to the batteries you collect; this can be easily checked through the Waste Transfer Note system.
Batteries can be classified under the European Waste Catalogue as either hazardous (lead acid, lithium) or non-hazardous (zinc carbon, alkaline). If they are hazardous, then a Hazardous Waste Consignment Note should be provided by your waste management supplier in addition to the Waste Transfer Note.
Data from the Environment Agency (EA) indicates that the UK exceeded its portable battery collection obligations last year. It reported that 11,800 tonnes of waste batteries were processed by treatment centres in 2013. This brought the collection rate to 32.37 per cent of batteries put onto the UK market, exceeding the 30 per cent target.
But, as in previous years, the target was met by collecting a disproportionately high number of lead acid batteries that have been recycled for years owing to their high lead content and associated value. Some 10,500 tonnes of those batteries, 88 per cent of the total, were collected in 2013, while they accounted only for about 7 per cent of batteries on the UK market. Take out automotive and industrial lead acid batteries and it seems the UK going backwards in its progress toward meeting the target.
The volume of nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) and 'other' batteries, which make up most new batteries, saw a decline. But EA data shows that in Q1 of 2014 a higher volume of nickel cadmium and other chemistries of battery were collected for recycling than in any quarter in 2013.
All non-lead acid battery types (rechargeable and non-rechargeable) can be recycled: alkaline manganese, zinc-carbon, nickel cadmium (NiCad), lithium ion (Li-ion), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), single-use lithium, silver oxide, and zinc air.
Limits on recycling
Recycling each type requires a different process. The UK has many approved battery treatment operators offering collection and storage, but no commercially available disposal facilities offer pyrometallurgical (where batteries are placed in a furnace) and hydrometallurgical (where batteries are treated chemically to separate materials) technologies.
Most batteries go to Northern Europe, the US or the Far East for treatment at increasingly high costs.
All plants implement the same technology, so the key differentiating factor is price, which in a competitive environment cuts profitability for battery recycling firms. Closed-loop recycling, whereby materials can be reused, is likely to help against price fluctuation of raw materials. Several projects are underway in Europe, the US and Japan to develop effective recycling with a complete life cycle analysis of recycling. To find sustainable solutions that meet commercial and legal requirements the entire process chain until its end product has be investigated and optimised.
FMs can help create a stable market and supply of materials by collecting every battery used from every staff member and every site in the UK.
Jason Cracknell, senior manager, hazardous waste, at Cawleys