Tiny change, big difference

When it comes to recycling AA batteries, it looks like Cork is doing well.

Consumers in Cork recycled the equivalent of 15 AA batteries per person in 2021, equalling the national average, new figures have revealed. Data from WEEE Ireland shows Ireland achieved a 46 per cent battery recycling rate in 2021, reaching its EU directive obligations.

Nationally, there was a 16 per cent increase in the amount of batteries recycled by Irish households, in line with increased consumption and greater usage of batteries in everyday products.

The spike in recycling is equivalent to 15 AA batteries saved from landfill per person, an increase of two per person on 2020.

Consumers in Cork city and county were in line with the national trend, replicating the national average of 15 AA batteries per person which were prevented from entering landfill.

“This small increase of two extra AA batteries recycled per person across Ireland made a huge difference and we are urging everyone in Cork to recycle at least two more in 2022 to reach our target – and to stop and think before throwing them in the bin,” said WEEE Ireland CEO, Leo Donovan.

Younger consumers, in particular, are being urged to stop binning used batteries as a new survey reveals almost half of 18-34 year olds are tossing them in the trash.

WEEE Ireland’s study found despite warnings around the environmental and safety hazards of incorrect disposal of end-of-life batteries, behavioural change is urgently needed amongst the younger generation.

“They are often lauded as the most environmentally conscious, yet the survey shows a worrying 43 per cent of adults under the age of 34, actually throw their used batteries in general waste bins instead of recycling them,” said Mr Donovan.

“Binning batteries means that a range of really valuable resources will never be recycled. We need a sea change in behaviour amongst this cohort in order to properly address the problem.”

The survey of 1,000 people, conducted online by Empathy Research last month, revealed more than a quarter of people are unaware that batteries contain valuable resources such as cobalt, zinc, nickel and lithium, which can be used again.

Over 55s are the most eco-conscious, with just nine per cent binning batteries – the lowest of all age categories – while 81 per cent know they contain valuable materials.

Only two per cent of over 55s hoard them, but this rises to 26 per cent for 18-34 year olds.

Data across all age groups shows a total of 16 per cent of the population binning and six per cent hoarding batteries, while the vast majority who do recycle them, use retailers (47 per cent), recycling centres (17 per cent), WEEE Ireland collection events (16 per cent) and local schools (11 per cent).

Disposing of used batteries properly is as simple as consumers bagging them up on their next shopping or recycling trip.

Mr Donovan added: “For the millions of batteries not recycled properly every year, we lose precious elements and important resources that can only be replaced by mining.

“The environmental and social costs of extracting and processing the materials required for battery manufacturing, can be huge.

“The world will require much less mining for materials if we can recycle more spent ones.”

However, Mr Donovan also said that as battery sales soar to cater for the growing demand for electric vehicle and e-mobility devices, these targets will become harder to reach if we don’t get into the habit of recycling more.

Every battery recycled by WEEE Ireland goes towards a donation fund to support the vital work provided by LauraLynn.