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What to do with used batteries?
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The recycling of used batteries is not a new topic to the Chinese public. But attitudes to the problems they pose might have to undergo some change.

File photo: Used batteries [qianlong.com]

File photo: Used batteries [qianlong.com] 

Normal batteries can be treated together with domestic waste

Previously, the most widely-used batteries had to be collected for treatment in order to avoid pollution, but they were removed from the National Hazardous Waste Inventory on June 6, 2008.

"The public can now put used batteries into the sorted garbage bins. Together with domestic waste, they are transferred to a regular garbage dump, which doesn't pose a threat to environment," an unnamed official with the Beijing environmental sector told the China Economic Weekly.

For years, the government has been making efforts to promote mercury-free batteries. In accordance with the Regulation on Restriction of Hg in Batteries issued by nine ministries in 1997, the production of batteries containing more than 0.025 percent of mercury by weight has been banned since January 1, 2001, and the marketing of alkaline manganese batteries containing more than 0.0001 percent of mercury by weight has been banned since January 1, 2006.

The official confirms that reputable companies have been producing environment-friendly mercury-free or low-mercury batteries since the regulation was published. Posing no risk to the environment, they can be treated together with domestic waste.

"But this message has not yet been known to the general public. Just as they were doing a decade ago, people still collect batteries for recycling," said Gao Mingde of the Beijing garbage recycling center. "Our center receives calls from citizens to collect used batteries almost every day, so we have carried on doing so throughout these years."

According to statistics from the Beijing environmental sector, more than 1,250 tons of used batteries have been collected since the Beijing garbage recycling center was established in April 1998.

"Some of these used batteries have been sent in batches to manufacturers for experiment, leaving several hundred tons in the warehouse," Gao Mingde told the China Economic Weekly. "They haven't been reprocessed yet, since no manufacturer in Beijing has the capacity to recycle used batteries on such a scale."

"Small quantities of used batteries mixed together with domestic waste can be allowed to decompose with little environmental impact. However, if large volumes of used batteries are not processed properly, they can cause mercury pollution in a localized area. Hence, without qualified treatment facilities, these used batteries should not be collected on a large scale," the unnamed official said.

The Beijing garbage recycling center makes a considerable effort to reduce environmental pollution caused by used batteries, while investigating potential means of recycling them.

Lead-acid batteries: Greatest threat to environment

Lead-acid batteries are mostly used in autos and motorcycles. Containing lead and sulfuric acid, they are among the most dangerous articles in the garbage dump.

As consumables, these batteries need to be replaced every one to two years, and in some cases even within six months. According to the regulations in some provinces, maintenance-free lead-acid batteries have to be recycled through the distribution outlets by the manufacturers. Anyone who wants to buy a new battery has to return the used one, otherwise, they will not be eligible to buy a new one.

According to Ding Xiao, manager with the brand center of the Zhejiang Luyuan Electric Vehicle Co, scrapped lead-acid batteries can largely be recycled. After one cycle, a reconditioned battery's performance can reach over 80 percent of that of a new one. The second reconditioning results in more than 50 percent efficiency, but no value remains after the third recycling.

Ding told the China Economic Weekly that due to the high price of lead, each recycled battery is worth up to a hundred yuan, so consumers won't scrap them thoughtlessly. "However, some waste collectors store lead-acid batteries in uncertified warehouses. If not structured to meet the necessary requirements, this can bring the risk of serious environmental pollution."

"Where should such used batteries go? Public education alone is not enough," said the official. "Manufacturers, the government and the general public all have to attach a greater importance to this matter."

(China.org.cn by Wang Wei, June 24, 2009)

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