Battery recycling plant bringing heavy metal back
Paul Timmins, Operations Director at compliance specialist Ecosurety, gives an insight into the thinking behind those leading the charge to bring battery recycling to the UK
In a nutshell, any organisation that manufactures or imports batteries – portable (under four kilogrammes (kg) and mostly made up of alkaline- zinc carbon-based batteries from domestic use), industrial or automotive – must report their activities under the Waste Batteries and Accumulator Regulations (2009). They must also finance the recycling of the batteries they put onto the market, depending on whether they are a small (placing less than one tonne on the market) or large producer and how much they place on the market, with large producers legally obligated to join a battery compliance scheme.
In the UK, recycling plants have not invested sufficiently in the sorting and shredding machinery needed to process batteries because there was previously no real UK market for the by-products of these waste materials. However, the combination of producer recycling requirements, plus Defra’s recent alteration to the classification of batteries – that batteries over 4kg are no longer classed as portable – means that there is now a bigger market for recycled batteries.
Over £300,000-worth of equipment was installed on site in September 2017 to enable the sorting and shredding of batteries to commence from November 2017. The plant is expected to be able to handle up to 20,000 tonnes of commercial and domestic batteries a year, covering the UK’s present obligation. It will process all types of domestic batteries, plus industrial lithium and electric vehicle batteries.
The batteries will be sorted according to chemical composition, with those suitable for shredding separated from the rest. About 70-80 per cent of the batteries will be shredded. Shredding and separation removes black mass content from the metal and plastic. The copper and steel fractions are sent for refining and the plastic is recovered and sent for recycling, while the black mass is either turned into other products or sent to refineries, likewise with the minority of batteries that cannot be handled, such as lead acid batteries.
Having a UK plant will enable UK producers to tell shareholders that they are creating a ‘closed loop’ for battery recycling, with the aim of sparking interest in keeping battery recycling operations in the UK. There will also be reductions in carbon emissions, as well as cost savings, by not exporting batteries abroad.
In terms of what will happen post-Brexit, waste and recycling businesses in the UK await the outcome of negotiations over a transition phase following the UK’s departure from the EU. What Ecosurety is clear about is that the UK will still need to continue to recycle before, during and after Brexit. The creation of the battery recycling plant is not a reaction to Brexit as such, but more of a statement that the waste and recycling industry can take control of its own destiny and create its own solutions, regardless of whatever macro-political drama may play out.
We have long been saying that the UK’s battery recycling industry has been in need of a shake-up. We’ve recently partnered with environmental charity Hubbub on a consumer campaign called #BringBackHeavyMetal to increase quality recycling in the UK, through encouraging the public to retrieve and recycle forgotten and spent batteries from cupboard drawers up and down the country.
We are creating a further two consumer awareness campaigns to increase the transparency of recycling evidence from packaging, WEEE and batteries. We strongly encourage producers of all sizes to take part and be part of the solution to increase quality recycling. The UK is creating its own battery waste; it’s up to us to clear it up.