Waste body calls out lack of action on battery fires

Thursday, 20 June, 2024

Waste body calls out lack of action on battery fires

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) has praised a $26 million ACT–Australian Government funding initiative for a new recycling facility in the state.

WMRR CEO Gayle Sloan said the funding commitment to a new material recovery facility (MRF) for the ACT was welcome news for green jobs and the environment, increasing collection and sorting of valuable packaging materials for use in remanufacturing.

“It’s important [that] material that can be collected and sorted for recycling or remanufacturing is done so to reduce the strain on natural resources and to help the country reach its goal of reducing emissions and creating a circular economy by 2030,” she said. “We need to keep material circulating for as long as possible.”

However, Sloan made the point that the funding for this new facility came some 18 months after the previous one was destroyed by a suspected lithium-ion battery fire on Boxing Day 2022 — serving to highlight inaction by governments across Australia to address the current lack of a comprehensive safe disposal pathway for all batteries.

“Since this facility was destroyed, the battery fire crisis enveloping our industry has only escalated,” she said. “The waste and resource recovery (WARR) industry is seeing battery fires daily in our trucks and facilities — and yet there is still no safe disposal or collection pathway for items with embedded batteries like vapes, toys and electric toothbrushes. How can this be?

“It is disappointing the ACT Government has not as yet developed drop-off locations to get batteries out of bins where they pose a huge risk. The cost of this inaction is a lot more than the $26 million announced [for the new facility].”

Sloan said the disruption the ACT recyclables system had endured over the last 18 months went well beyond the capital cost of rebuilding a new MRF, with services disrupted, alternative locations identified, and transport costs and interim arrangements funded.

“With the nation’s environment ministers meeting this week to consider a national strategy, we hope it delivers the urgent funding needed to establish battery drop-off points for items with embedded batteries,” she said.

On a brighter note, WMRR welcomed a government’s commitment to expand a food organics and garden organics (FOGO) trial to unit blocks, taking the total number of participating households to 6450 across the ACT.

“The focus on keeping organic waste out of landfill is particularly critical for the environment because when landfilled it emits methane, a gas with 28 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide. We look forward to the ACT continuing to move forward on this important initiative,” Sloan said.

Image credit: iStock.com/Blade_kostas

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