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Feature: Switch on to battery recycling

Every year, an estimated 660 million, or 25,000 tonnes, of waste portable batteries are sold in the UK, and most end up in landfill sites despite their recycling potential.

Market research commissioned by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in 2005 found that the vast majority of batteries are thrown away by consumers, with 80% of people saying they put used batteries straight into their normal bin.

In the UK, we use an average of 21 batteries each every year, but with the ever-increasing appetite for consumer electronics, this number has the potential to grow rapidly. The term ‘waste portable batteries’ covers not only cell batteries, such as AAA and AA batteries used in many appliances, but also button batteries, for example those found in watches, as well as batteries from mobile phones and laptops.

Part of its Business Resource Efficiency and Waste Programme activities, WRAP’s batteries programme is designed to prepare the UK for the implementation of the Batteries Directive, which is expected to set the UK an annual target to collect 25% by weight of portable batteries sold by 2012, rising to 45% by 2016.

One of the main objectives is to establish a cost-effective way of collecting and recycling batteries, and so the biggest series of kerbside household battery collection trials ever seen in the UK has recently been launched. The trials will test different collection schemes and aim to identify and remove the barriers to increased collection and recycling of waste batteries.

WRAP’s consumer research also revealed that more than two-thirds of people had never even thought about the possibility of recycling batteries, but nine out of 10 said they would be encouraged to recycle their batteries if there was a home collection scheme.

The initial trials are focused on kerbside collection schemes which will allow residents to recycle batteries on their doorstep along with their other recyclables. The trials will see WRAP working with 12 partner organisations in 13 local authority areas covering more than 350,000 households throughout the UK. The schemes vary greatly in terms of the number and types of households and geographical areas covered, ranging from very rural parts of Scotland to urban areas of Merseyside.

Householders in the trial areas will receive a dedicated collection container in the form of a batch of sealable polythene bags or a small cardboard box. They will be asked to place all their waste batteries in the container and put it out for collection along with their other materials for recycling, and do not need to wait until they have collected a full bag or box.

Once put out by the householder, the bags or boxes of batteries will be separated by the crews and unloaded into a large container at the depot which is dedicated to batteries. When the container is nearly full, the depot will call WRAP’s designated transport, sorting and reprocessing contractor to arrange a collection and an empty container will be dropped off in its place.

Once collected from the depots, batteries are taken to a recycling centre, the bags are opened and the individual batteries sorted into batches based on their chemical composition. After sorting, the waste batteries are reprocessed to recover the different compounds that can be reused to produce new batteries, such as manganese and zinc, or separate the materials to manufacture other items, including new steel. These compounds are then sent to specialist recyclers around Europe.

G&P Batteries, one of the UK’s lar

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