4.10 Batteries

There are an estimated 50 million batteries sold in South Africa each year. Whilst some are rechargeable batteries, the majority are alkaline and silver oxide batteries which are not rechargeable. Various heavy metals including mercury and cadmium are present in these batteries, resulting in their classification as hazardous waste.

In implementing the waste hierarchy, the key challenges are to reduce this waste stream through recycling, and where recycling is not possible, to separate this waste from the general waste stream so it can be disposed of safely. The Waste Classification System provides for seven sub categories of batteries, and appropriate waste management measures need to be applied to each subcategory.

Currently, there are no regulations or official EPR initiatives in place for the domestic battery industry. One international supplier of domestic batteries has begun a battery recycling initiative, with collection bins placed at selected outlets. These batteries are then sorted and the recyclable batteries are sent to France as there are currently no domestic batteries recycling facilities in South Africa. Non-recyclable domestic batteries are encased in concrete and sent to landfill.

The South African Battery Manufacturers Association manages a scrap loading charge, or levy, on motor vehicle batteries, which are considered toxic due to the lead and sulphuric acid content. Battery retailers will generally take back one battery for every new battery bought from them, and will return the levy in exchange. The levy ranges from approximately R10 for motorbike batteries, to R100 for motor car batteries. Breakthroughs in technology have resulted in the components of these batteries becoming almost 100% re-useable or recyclable, and the levy has assisted in high levels of motor vehicle battery recycling.

Standards for ensuring that batteries sold in South Africa meets international specifications should be set out through a SABS standard in consultation with the dti.. These standards will then be legislated for in terms of section 18(2) of the Waste Act. Further research is required in order to explore potential synergies between various eWaste initiatives including batteries.

The battery industry will be required to produce an IndWMP which must among other requirements provide for an education and awareness campaign for the general public, with the aim of decreasing the number of batteries going to landfill, and promoting the use of rechargeable batteries as well as the recycling of batteries.

Should the IndWMP fail to be effective, a mandatory EPR programme will be considered by DEA.

Local facilities for recycling of batteries should be established in order to reduce the environmental and economic impact of sending them abroad whilst benefiting economically from the recycled product. Industry should set out a plan within the IndWMP for the development of such facilities. The requirement and provision of subsidies or other financial incentives to initially establish these facilities could then be considered by the dti with input from DEA.