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Recycling industry must be front and centre in environmental battery plan

15 November 2023 – The Association for the Battery Recycling Industry (ABRI) welcomes an Australian environment ministers’ decision to prioritise work on solving the growing problem of lithium batteries and safety risks in waste facilities.

A meeting of environment ministers in Adelaide noted that the Queensland government would lead work on possible future regulatory actions.

Incorrect disposal and use of lithium batteries has led to a string of fires, with reports of up to four fires a week in garbage trucks.

ABRI CEO Katharine Hole said the decision was a step in the right direction, but there was an urgent need to include a broader strategy in the review of the battery supply chain.

“We must have a clear strategy on driving a battery circular economy if we are to achieve a pathway to net zero,” she said.

“It’s also about cultural change in how we manage batteries throughout their lifecycle and all the supporting infrastructure – including the development of sovereign technologies to recover critical battery minerals such as cobalt, lithium and copper from used batteries.

“As the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recently noted in its report with sufficient infrastructure, safe disposal and recycling, the industry becomes more sustainable and scalable.”

Ms Hole said the strategy needs to consider separate recycling pathways for different battery applications each of which present unique challenges – consumer, energy storage and electric vehicle.

“Used consumer battery collection, the main contributor to fires in waste facilities, differs from EVs and energy storage due to the size of the batteries, the complexity of engineering and the electrical safety risks – it’s not one size fits all.”

A strategy needs to include:

  • Funding to support a growing industry – including the development of world leading technology
  • Streamlined approvals for recycling facilities handling used batteries where safe and sustainable
  • Strengthened consumer collection and support for cultural change in dropping off batteries.

Ms Hole said industry was working on many initiatives to support change and will continue to work in partnership with both Federal and State governments.