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Australia’s first lithium battery recycling plant launched

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recycling, e-waste, lithium battery

Sean O’Malley from Planet Ark, Spiro Kalos from Mobile Muster, Andrew McKenzie and John Polhill from EnviroStream and Sustainability Victoria’s Shannon Smyth. Source: Supplied

Australia’s first lithium battery recycling plant has been officially anointed in Victoria, in conjunction with the launch of $16.5 million state government e-waste processing plan.

The plant, established in New Gisbourne by Victorian company Envirostream Australia, is the first in the nation to recycle lithium batteries – the now ubiquitous power source for mobile phones, tablets, electric cars and home energy storage systems.

But while batteries – and in particular lithium batteries – are playing a central role in facilitating the world’s digital and clean energy revolutions, only 3 per cent of Australian batteries are currently recovered – the lowest rate in the OECD.

Envirostream’s $2 million recycling facility, which began operations last year, is trying to change that. In 2017 alone, the plant recycled 240,000 kilograms of batteries that would otherwise have gone to landfill, or been shipped to China for processing.

The facility’s official opening was attended by Victoria energy and environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio, who used the occasion to release details of a plan to ramp up the state’s recycling of electronic waste.

Electronic waste – or e-waste – is defined as anything with a plug or battery that has come to the end of its useful life; including old mobile phones, computers, audio devices, refrigerators and other white goods, hair driers, TVs, heaters and air-conditioners.

The amount of e-waste generated in Victoria is projected to increase from 109,000 tonnes in 2015 to approximately 256,000 tonnes in 2035.

The plan, which is being rolled out by Sustainability Victoria, comes ahead of the impending state ban on sending e-waste to landfill, which takes effect on 1 July 2019.

It includes $15 million in grants to help Victorian councils and state government entities upgrade infrastructure to collect e-waste at more than 130 sites.

This will ensure that 98 per cent of Melburnians are within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point, and 98 per cent of regional Victorians are within a 30-minute drive of one.

It will also include a $1.5 million awareness campaign to educate Victorians on recognising e-waste, how it should be managed, and the environmental and economic benefits of reusing, donating, repairing or recycling it.

To Envirostream, Sustainability Victoria has extended a grant of $40,000 to go towards boosting the company’s recovery of valuable materials in lithium batteries.

“As one of the country’s trailblazers in reprocessing electronic waste, it’s helping to keep valuable resources out of landfills,” said Sustainability Victoria CEO Stan Krpan.

“Envirostream is showing how opportunities can be developed in Australia’s resource recovery sector, create jobs in regional communities and capture valuable chemicals, copper, steel, nickel, lithium, other metals and graphene captured so they can be sent to South Korea to be used in new batteries.”

Envirostream Director, Andrew McKenzie, said recycling batteries at New Gisborne would create five new jobs over the next year and help build Victoria’s recycling capacity.

“We have a nationally coordinated partnership to increase Australia’s low recovery rates of batteries and mobile phones and want to make sure these recoverable resources are not just thrown away or sent offshore for recycling.”

“We’re in an increasingly mobile world. Lithium batteries are now the dominant mode of energy storage for domestic and industrial uses, and like other e-waste, their use is growing fast,” he said.  

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  • George Darroch

    “This will ensure that 98 per cent of Melburnians are within a 20-minute drive of an e-waste disposal point, and 98 per cent of regional Victorians are within a 30-minute drive of one.”

    This is the kind of thinking that ensures nobody in Australia recycles e-waste. Who, apart from the environmentally conscientious is going to drive 10-20 minutes out of their way to a single delivery point?

    You have to make it a whole lot easier. Put a point at every shopping mall, where people are going anyway. Make every single electronics retailer take back deposited e-waste. You could even have a refund-based deposit scheme.

    • Joe

      Spot on Georg. Manufacturers and Retailers have to be made to take full responsibility for their products, from birth to end of useful life. Making consumers responsible only encourages non-environmental friendly practices and we see that result everyday, everywhere around us.

      • DoRightThing

        Also crucially important to get this message into the education system and update curricula to include the importance of recycling.
        It should be as second nature as flushing the loo after you’ve used it.

    • solarguy

      You stole my thunder George, “Great minds think alike”

    • Alastair Leith

      Same issue with plastics recycling. The bottle beverage industry strongly oppose reforms at every step. Even if a scheme is introduced for refundable containers, they only have to pay up when the containers are returned, so they discourage policy that enforces convenience, and pocket the extra they’ve charged us to incorporate the scheme.

      • john

        Micro Plastic is endemic in you water supply.
        It is in every type of water.
        welcome to the age we live in.
        Welcome heavy metals added to the micro plastic particles you are being given free and carry not exactly good outcomes for you or your off springs.

        • Alastair Leith

          Tank rainfall water for drinking at least, town supply for showers and everything else.

          • john

            True and your tank water has Micro Plastics in it.

          • Alastair Leith

            Microplastic evaporates? (Asking not disputing)

          • john

            Remember that study on Paris where the amount of Micro Plastics falling on the city per year is 10 tonnes.
            We are talking micro particles that yes are swept up into the air not melted carried by wind and then attached to water droplets.
            Heavy metals attach to same not exactly what you want passing into your blood supply.
            Even the penguins in Antarctica have micro plastics in them as well as the other new chemicals like PFOA .
            Of note PFOA causes tumors in all your vital organs. Yes kidneys, liver, or if a male your testes sobering is it not.

    • Mike Shackleton

      You don’t think these points will be co-located like that?

  • Ian

    A new waste levy applies to all consumer items would assist with better recycling.

    Australia, being mega- wealthy can afford such a levy

    • John Saint-Smith

      And as citizens of the world, which is going to waste Hell in a handcart, we cannot afford not to have one.

      Levies of any kind aren’t popular, just ask the Queensland LNP Opposition leader Deb Frecklington. It took her but one day to call the waste recycling levy proposed for re-introduction after the previous LNP government scrapped it, a “Labor tax grab”. There is no shame in the Lying Nasty Party.

      But like compulsory seat belts, everyone complains until it becomes second nature, and suddenly they wouldn’t be with out them.

      • Alastair Leith

        more direct self interest with seat-belts but yes, I agree a circular economy needs to become second nature to us all, and exceptions frowned upon.

        • Alastair Leith

          Worth noting we had one for 60-100,000 years prior to 1788 (the invasion prior to the Japanese invasion which comes up in google). Good book is Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

      • john

        Oh Yes seat belts and disk brakes and collapsible steering columns all resisted by the vehicle manufactures yelling ” THIS will send US broke”.
        They wished to sell you killing machines that had crap safety and crap efficiency and they still want to do the same

    • john

      That will never pass the senate

  • RobertO

    Hi All, Recycling employes more people so if the levy is applied at the sale point and the money used to recycle the item then it become better all round. Something like 2% of sale price and 1% refund when you return the item to any point of sale or a 1.1% when returned to any specialist recycler. As with all ideas this may be a silly idea but the case is there, in that we need to do much better than we are currently doing.

  • solarguy

    Instead of sending the recovered resource to Korea to be made into new batteries, why doesn’t a business start up here do that. Wages in Korea aren’t 3rd world, so it should be a goer.

  • john

    Good for Victorians.
    Zero any where else, unless they link to that facility.
    Question when you take you’r batteries to the lithium change over place to get new ones where do they go?
    I bet to the rubbish bin.
    I bet you: they never went to a previous recycling facility. was not any.
    I do not think any lithium batteries were recycled before this started.
    So how do we find where to find some depository that will send lithium batteries to a recycling plant?

    Where are the dump bins?
    Not expecting them any soon frankly.

    • DoRightThing

      Cobalt in lithium batteries is almost $90,000 per ton, and makes up most of the weight of the cells.
      If they do go to landfill, then somebody is fishing them out again for reuse or recycling.

    • RobertO

      Hi john, We have to trust that most companies are doing the right thing (and those that are not will get found out)
      Currently Australia sends 8000 tons of 1.5 V batteries to the rubbish tip and a company called ALDI have started a collection point for these batteries. They are making enough money to cover their costs of collecting and recycling the batteries. As with all programs the costs need to be covered otherwise it not worth the exercise.

      • john

        ALDI is not nation wide more is the pity.

        • RobertO

          Hi john, I was invovled in a discussion one day in 2010 with the bosses about recycling. They were employing a company to empty the 2 by 4.5 cubic metre steel bins Mondays and Thursdays about 40 weeks of the year at a price of $55,000 a year (in 2012 one of the people admitted that I was very close to the mark). A 3 cubic metre paper only bin arrived on site early in Dec 2011 and they ask me how often we should get it emptied as I had been the person pushing for the change to recycling. We are normally closed for Christmas Holidays starting early December so I said “once a fornight should be OK but lets play it by ear”. We did ring every third working day for the next 2 months until we settled on 1 per Week in Feb 2012. Today it is 4.5 paper bin (all packaging including plastics all types so long as it’s clean, ie no food packaging) and the plastic bottle bin 1100 litre bin (bottles and food plastics and we seperate 10 cent containers out of the stream) and then the Monday, Thursday general rubbish bins at 4.5. The new costing are about $8,000.
          two points to note are: this was the first school holidays were we did not cancel regular pickup (the last three I have tried to not cancel the pick up and it has made it harder to manager the system.
          Today one of the staff members (about 150 people) said “I only put anything I want removed in the rubbish bin” (It is not my job to sort anything, it just goes in the rubbish bin). At the meeting about what was in the general rubbish bin to a third party reported that person. I had found paper and cardboard packaging (about 500 litres worth) and some steel. The steel we take to the recyclers just to stop it costing us money.
          Hopefully that person has now received a lecture on what they need to be doing at the school.