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Exposing the ‘design flaws’ of the international battery industry

Alyona Yuzefovich of Megapolis Resource is fighting the odds in hopes of launching Russia s first successful battery collection scheme.

Belgium – Recyclers across the world are being confronted with a growing flow of unsustainable gadgets ‘phones and tablets are particularly ‘problematic’, noted Lida Stengs of the European Electronics Recycling Association at the annual Congress for Battery Recycling in Antwerp. Difficulties have gotten to the point that disassembling such devices means only 20% of batteries stored inside can be recovered at end-of-life stage.

According to Stengs, it was still unclear who ought to be ‘punished’ for failure to meet the EU’s mandatory 45% collection target by the end of this year.

‘Instead of offering transparency about each country’s individual recycling performance – and fining those who fall behind – it is likely the EU will simply react by setting a higher target,’ she speculated. Such an approach to recycling legislation could very well be likened to ‘a design flaw’.

USA: concentrated volume

The industry on the other side of the Atlantic is facing problems of its own, confirmed Thomas Bjarnemark, ceo of Battery Solutions in Michigan, USA. ‘The US is the world’s largest consumer market; batteries are no exception, with over 257 million units sold in 2014,’ he announced. There are a select few battery collectors and not all of them operate on a national scale, resulting in a large concentration of volume.

‘Meanwhile, it is completely legal to landfill alkaline batteries in most states, yielding low collection rates for primary batteries,’ Bjarnemark noted. The USA has a much higher share of primary batteries than most markets.

Carl Smith of Call2Recycle reported that a total of 7.3 million pounds (3.3 million kg) of single-use and rechargeable batteries have been recycled across North America so far this year.

Australia: little coordination

In Australia, handheld battery sales totalled AU$ 400 million (US$ 304 million) in 2013, including 50% rechargeable and 50% single-use batteries by weight. By chemistry, the total comprised 49% single-use alkaline and zinc carbon batteries and 48% rechargeable lithium-ion and lead-acid batteries.

‘Sadly, the recycling rate currently only stands at roughly 3%,’ revealed Helen Lewis of the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative, adding that there is ‘not really any co-ordinated national approach’.

Russia: collection ‘against the law’

Alyona Yuzefovich of Megapolis Resource in Moscow is on a mission to find a successful concept for battery collection – first for the capital and ultimately for the entire country. But she is aware that it is rather an uphill battle. ‘The problem in Russia is that the public doesn’t have much faith in government organisations, let alone in them getting involved in recycling,’ Yuzefovich told Recycling International.

With a background in PR, Yuzefovich first came into contact with recycling two years ago while working at Mediamarkt in Moscow. She launched the country’s first battery collection scheme, but sadly the authorities didn’t show much support. ‘Mediamarkt actually got fined because of the take-back project,’ recalled Yuzefovich, who is still puzzled by the fact.

What was supposed to be just a routine audit of the store turned into a campaign against instore collection efforts which were ‘against the law’, the staff were told. ‘Instead of allowing us to pave the way for the Russian battery recycling sector this guy comes in and tells us that there are hardly any rules regarding recycling and that you can’t just start collecting of your own accord,’ Yuzefovich explains.

The full report of the Conference for Battery Recycling will be published in the upcoming October issue.

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