Where are the missing batteries?

12 April 2021

Fresh article published on Lets Recycle from SWEEEP:

Where are the missing batteries?

The obviously wrong lead acid battery protocol is undermining the collection of truly portable batteries. This in turn undermines treatment quality at WEEE AATFs and increases fire risks in outputs from recyclers where batteries remain a contamination.

The implausibly high collection rate of portable lead batteries (1,367T put on market but 11,470T recycled in 2020!) is well known to the industry and the regulators but the wrong protocol continues to be used because collection targets can be achieved on the cheap. 

Producer responsibility legislation is complicated to get correct, and I sympathise with the logic that why would a producer take more responsibility than legally required by collecting batteries in excess of targets? This then loops back to lead acid battery protocol needing fixing to make sure all stake holders are motivated to collect.

True portable batteries are available to collect but approx. 3661 tonnes of batteries are hiding in our electronic gadgets (Small Mixed EEE).

If the Small Mixed WEEE gets incinerated, then batteries don’t get recycled

If the Small Mixed WEEE goes to landfill, then batteries don’t get recycled

If the Small Mixed WEEE gets exported, then batteries also get exported

If the Small Mixed WEEE gets recycled to a poor-quality standard, then batteries are lost into other outputs

Looking at the numbers:

There is 0.68% battery content in typical Small Mixed WEEE. The official figure of 0.68% comes from hand sorting trials sourced from a wide geographic area in order to obtain representative samples. For the past 2 years SWEEEP Kuusakoski have had our battery capture rate independently verified – 80,000T of a sample size achieved 0.73% battery capture rate. The national protocol of 0.68% battery content is therefore both accurate and achievable but you need to have a lot of staff sorting to find all the batteries.

Small Mixed EEE (Put on Market) 2020 = 538,477T x 0.68% = 3,661.64T of batteries held inside our gadgets. If more Small Mixed WEEE was recycled then more batteries could be recycled:

3,661.64T is a significant weight of batteries held inside Small Mixed EEE which turns into Small Mixed WEEE if like for like old for new. The National Packaging Waste Data base confirms that in 2020 Battery Compliance Schemes collected 17,728T of batteries but true portable batteries (Ni-Cd + Others) not skewed by lead acid protocol was 534.681T + 5722.906T = 6257.587T

Recycling more Small Mixed WEEE correctly via AATF infrastructure is critical to being able to reach battery targets once lead acid protocol fixed.

Crucially the quality of recycling at AATFs must also be measured to ensure 0.68% is being achieved. This has never previously been audited by the EA in any meaningful way but 0.68% as a KPI is planned as part of BATRRT refresh.

WEEE Producer Compliance Schemes also have a role to play in checking that a robust battery capture system is in place at all AATFs. Where a WEEE PCS is also a Battery PCS you would expect a shared interest in checking battery capture rates are being achieved – that is joined up producer responsibility in action.

SWEEEP Kuusakoski’s independently audited battery capture rate % report (0.73% across 80,000T of Small Mixed WEEE) has been shared with all our key customers. You do however need to apply a lot of labour to capture all the batteries and it is significantly cheaper not to capture all the batteries when recycling Small Mixed WEEE.

Small Mixed WEEE 2019 recycled via AATFs = 137,022T x 0.68% battery content = 931T of battery potential.

Small Mixed WEEE 2020 recycled via AATFs = 108,933T x 0.68% battery content = 740T of battery potential.

Battery Compliance schemes will know how much battery tonnage has come from AATF during the last 2 years and it should have been around 931T+740T = 1671T

SWEEEP Kuusakoski has captured 574T of batteries out of small mixed WEEE during the last 2 years. All recycled via battery schemes and contributing to battery capture rate data.

Batteries are small incendiary devices and there are almost weekly reports of fires in commercial transfer stations, scrap yards, household waste sites and waste collection vehicles. All stake holders are impacted by fire caused by batteries and we all have a role to play but step one must be to stop using the obviously wrong lead acid battery protocol.

© 2021

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