The Commonwealth Government announced a National Battery Strategy on 23 May 2024 funded to the tune of more than half a billion dollars.

There’s a lot to like about the plan as it seeks to take advantage of Australia’s natural competitive advantages – including the fact we have nine (9) of the ten minerals essential for battery production right here.

The big disappointment for the waste and resource recovery (WARR) industry was the plan’s complete silence on dealing with the battery fire crisis enveloping our industry.

Our industry is literally on fire, yet the Government’s  battery strategy fails to do anything to protect our workers, trucks and facilities, let alone mention the need to address this issue - a point not lost in my recent discussion with broadcaster Ray Hadley who picked it up really quickly (Ray for Enviro Minister perhaps?)

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be almost laughable. It’s the equivalent of Monty Python’s famous line ‘it’s just a flesh wound.’

To add insult to injury, industry has been advised by DCCEEW that the stewardship work on PV and small electrical appliances will be separated, priority given to PVs and the working groups discontinued. Whilst WMRR agrees with separating these items, the fact that the small electrical appliances have effectively been deprioritised is of huge concern given the prevalence of embedded batteries in these.

We also still don’t have real clarity as to whether the Queensland Government’s national work on batteries includes embedded batteries, as the Federal government have advised that ‘given the increasing use of embedded batteries it is essential that small equipment work properly considers the issue of batteries and supports work being undertaken by state governments‘ ... what does this mean?  Is it part of the Queensland work or the Federal e-waste work?  Embedded battery items like electronic toys, vapes, through to portable speakers and singing birthday cards are an entire class of battery-powered item with no safe disposal or collection method and it doesn't look like there is any urgency (at least at a federal level) to address this.

Beyond the fire risk these batteries pose, it is now starting impact broader WARR activities by pushing up insurance premiums. Members are reporting steep jumps in premiums and some operators are having difficulty obtaining insurance at all. Facilities cannot operate without insurance – the risk is just too great – so it is not beyond the realm of possibility these battery fires might place the delivery of our services at risk.

The nation’s Environment Ministers are meeting on 21 June 2024. We desperately need this meeting to agree to standards and set regulation to ensure the safety of all in the supply chain. We need to change the design standards so all batteries are removable for safe disposal and recovery, and we need generator responsibility for a level playing field to ensure only safe products are brought to market.

Most importantly, governments – both state and federal – must immediately fund collection points to get all batteries out of our bins. Fire authorities (not just in Australia but worldwide) are reporting a huge jump in the number of fires due to lithium-ion batteries. These collection points can help address this jump, as well as improve safety for the WARR industry and its workers.