The Global Product Stewardship Council periodically invites thought leaders on product stewardship and producer responsibility to contribute guest blogs. Our guest blogger for this post is Dr Helen Lewis, Principal of Helen Lewis Research and Chief Executive of the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI).
At their last meeting in July, Australian Environment Ministers agreed to continue work on an industry-driven stewardship program for handheld batteries but with a focus on hazardous and rechargeable batteries only.
This is a significant win for Energizer, Duracell and the Consumer Electronics Suppliers Association (CESA), who have argued that battery stewardship for primary batteries would need to be regulated to ensure that all suppliers participate. During a Product Stewardship Institute battery recycling webinar (5/6 November 2014) Energizer’s spokesman advised that they had ‘zero tolerance’ for voluntary stewardship but would work with ABRI to develop a regulatory solution.
Handheld batteries are one of only two product categories that are still listed on the national ‘priority list’ for government action under the Product Stewardship Act. That list identifies products that the Minister for the Environment will consider for regulation or accreditation under the Act.
The Queensland Government is leading negotiations on the battery stewardship program on behalf of all government jurisdictions. A discussion paper, released in March 2014, outlined proposals for battery stewardship that were well received by most stakeholders but failed to secure the necessary level of industry support, particularly from primary battery manufacturers.
Following the Ministers’ decision to refine the scope to rechargeable and hazardous batteries only, a more focused proposal is expected to be developed by key industry associations and brand owners in late 2015 for broader consultation. While the exact scope of the stewardship scheme is yet to be defined, it is likely to include all handheld rechargeable batteries weighing less than 5kg as well as primary button cells. Button and coin cells have been the subject of extensive media coverage in Australia over the past two years due to an increasing number of infants and children presenting at hospitals with life threatening injuries associated with batteries.
The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative will continue to advocate for ‘all battery’ recycling services because these offer the most convenient and environmentally-responsible solution for consumers. Existing battery recycling programs, which are funded by state government agencies, local councils and retailers such as ALDI and Battery World, already collect both primary and secondary batteries.
Nevertheless, the establishment of a national, voluntary stewardship scheme for rechargeable batteries would be a welcome development because it would increase industry engagement and improve the availability of recycling services. ABRI is working on a series of pilot projects for particular battery types to inform the design of a national program. The first of these, for power tool batteries, will commence in September this year.
At the same time ABRI will continue to work on regulatory options for primary batteries. These include stand-alone regulations (similar to the model legislation developed by the battery industry in the US) or extension of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme to include primary batteries. If discussions on a voluntary scheme for rechargeable batteries do not reach a successful outcome in 2016 then ABRI will argue that regulations should apply to all handheld batteries.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Global Product Stewardship Council.
Helen Lewis is part-time chief executive of the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative. She has been actively involved in product stewardship initiatives for plastics, packaging and batteries for over 20 years. Helen is a member of the GlobalPSC Advisory Group.