Australia’s Recycling Conundrum: The Lithium-Ion Battery Hazard

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Mounting Challenges in the Australian Recycling Industry over Lithium-ion Batteries

Our exclusive report unveils a growing crisis in the Australian recycling industry – the escalating threat of lithium-ion battery fires. As stated in an interview with CEO Suzanne Toumbourou of the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR), these volatile batteries cause approximately three fires in recycling streams daily, a fact she emphasises might still be understated.

Lithium-ion batteries: A Trojan horse for recycling industry

The highly combustible nature of lithium-ion batteries are becoming an increasing occupational hazard, jeopardising the safety and functionality of recycling operations. As per our gathered information, fire departments are presently wrestling with at least one major lithium-ion battery-related fire per week. To highlight the grave consequence, we look at the incident in Canberra where a fire, ignited by a lithium-ion battery, resulted in a whopping $20 million damage on Boxing Day, 2022.

The Intensifying E-Waste Issue

The pressing issue of regulating lithium-ion batteries is underscored by their growing prevalence. Projections for 2026 suggest that every Australian household will own about 33 devices containing these batteries on average. The problem is further compounded by the fact that in 2021, only 10% of the country’s lithium-ion battery waste was recycled. Information from the federal government shows that this waste is growing at a rate of 20% annually, which could lead to an astronomical 136,000 tonnes by 2036.

A Cry for Responsible Actions

ACOR is combatting this looming trouble through a two-tier strategy comprising of promoting consumer awareness and setting up safe battery recycling sites. Apart from these steps, ACOR is championing the idea of ‘product stewardship’, whereby producers are held accountable for the disposal of their lithium-ion batteries. As validated by Deakin University’s senior lecturer Trevor Thornton, this principle insists that companies must own responsibility for the lifecycle management of their products.

Despite the existence of programs like the B-cycle, which is supported by the Commonwealth and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and offers recycling sites for lithium-ion batteries, experts maintain that the responsibility of proper disposal should not lay entirely on consumers. They argue that it is incumbent upon the manufacturers not merely to profit, but also to ensure that their products do not pose a threat to recycling operations and, by implication, our environment.

John Kerry

John Kerry, a distinguished author in the realm of science, explores the intricate intersections of environmental policy and scientific advancements. With an insightful pen, he navigates complex issues, offering readers a profound understanding of the crucial role science plays in shaping sustainable futures. Dive into Kerry's work on ReaderWall to embark on a journey through the nexus of science and policy.