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Battery disposal has become a topical subject in the UK as we become more aware of the dangers and implications.
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When talking about the current battery disposal and recycling problems, we are generally talking about non-lead acid batteries; lead acid batteries, such as car batteries, are generally recycled because the lead content has a relatively high value and can be extracted reasonably cost effectively.
Part of the reason battery recycling has become topical is that the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations are set to impose targets for recycling, which will rise from 40-45% to 70-75%, this compares to the current figure in the UK, which is less than 1%! In the UK currently over 20,000 tonnes of batteries are thrown away each year, the majority ending up in landfill.
Whilst NiCad and Lithium batteries contain substances, which are hazardous to the environment, the zinc and manganese batteries that make up the majority of the battery waste do not contain substances that are particularly harmful if properly treated. The battery manufacturers association point out that the main thrust of regulation for battery disposal is related to minimisation of waste going to land fill rather than any particular environment hazard contained in the battery components and the environmental argument is by no means decided.
There are currently NO facilities in the UK for the reprocessing of non lead-acid batteries and where these are destined for recycling they are stored, sorted and shipped to the continent where they are processed for material recovery, some details of the process are included at the end of this document.
This is the existing route of battery recycling but as the UK tries to recycle more of its battery waste the capacity of these continental plants will be exceeded and stockpiles of batteries are likely to result until new facilities are brought on line. Under current regulations no batteries should be consigned untreated to landfill. If not processed for material recovery these should be destroyed by incineration or treated before being dumped in an approved landfill site.
The environmental argument for properly processing waste for managed landfill in the UK against shipping batteries for hundreds of miles for reprocessing is not conclusive, it is also clear that the majority of battery waste follows neither of these routes and goes to landfill as part of the general domestic / commercial waste streams.
Envirogreen operates a number of collection schemes and battery disposal services for commercial and non-commercial organisations that have enlightened environmental policies but these produce modest amounts of waste. There has been running a pilot scheme in Bristol (covering 250,000 people), which, even with kerbside collections, only recovered 3.5 tonnes in the first 6 months. This was on target but represents somewhere between 5-10% of the battery waste produced! Other local authorities and some shops and other commercial organisations offer battery collection services for domestic users but these are currently limited.
The cost of battery disposal and / or recycling different battery types varies depending on the market for the recovered materials and the capacity at the recovery plants; in the short term these battery disposal costs are likely to rise as the quantity of batteries being recycled in Europe increases beyond the capacity of the recycling plants, the medium to long term prices are likely to fall as recycling capacity increases and transport costs fall with recycling sites closer to the point of production.
Currently the costs of recycling standard alkaline cells can be 3 times greater than the cost of treatment and disposal and similar variations apply to NiCad and Lithium batteries.
The most environmentally friendly and economically viable battery disposal solution for any individual organisation's battery waste stream will depend on the volume of waste, differently chemistries of batteries used, frequency of collections required and number of locations where the waste is produced. Envirogreen are able to offer battery disposal services and advice on the various options and tailor packages to suit individual requirements.
Envirogreen offer a number of different packages for the collection and disposal / recycling of the various different types of batteries, these are generally tailored to the customers' specific needs.
To give you an idea of the sorts of battery disposal services and prices, there are some examples given below:
Storage containers for lead acid batteries can be provided, these are euro pallet sized rigid plastic containers with fork lift eyes on each face.
The boxes are 1.2M X 1.0M X .85M (high) and will hold about 850KG or 85 standard sized car batteries. These containers can be rented from £15 per month, collection and recycling costs are dependant on the weight of batteries and prices can be quoted as required.
Standard Dry Cells Alkaline / Zinc with some NiCad and Lithium Cells
"Standard" dry cell batteries typically AA, AAA, C and D type cells can be stored and removed for recycling or disposal, in accordance with all current regulations.