Battery collection plan to be powered up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2006, 12:00am

Department aims to double the size of the latest shipment sent to South Korea

The environmental watchdog aims to double the recovery rate of used rechargeable batteries this year after 13 tonnes of toxic batteries collected in the past 12 months were shipped to Korea yesterday.

The shipment will help Hong Kong save landfill space as it does not have a facility to extract and recycle the toxic materials in the batteries. The city dumps about 250 tonnes of rechargeable batteries in landfills every year.

The Environmental Protection Department hopes that by expanding the collection network and stepping up publicity, the recovery rate can be boosted from 5 per cent to 10 per cent this year. It also plans to introduce a mandatory product-responsibility scheme for rechargeable batteries by 2009.

Yesterday's shipment contained 320,000 rechargeable nickel-cadmium, nickel metal hydride and lithium ion batteries used in laptops, digital cameras, mobile phones and other communications equipment.

They had been collected since last April under a voluntary scheme funded by about 34 producers of batteries, mobile phones and computers in the city. They will be safely dismantled in a South Korean factory called Kobar, Asia's only recycling plant for rechargeable batteries outside Japan. At least 6.4 tonnes of cadmium, ferrous nickel and cobalt are expected to be extracted from the shipment.

The metals - particularly cadmium, which damages the lungs and kidneys - will be reused in battery production in Korea.

Lawrence Wong Tung-kwong, the department's principal environmental protection officer, said the city's 5 per cent recovery rate already outperformed the 2 to 3 per cent in Europe when the recycling scheme was introduced there.

He said it would consider stepping up publicity and expanding the collection network, which included train stations, housing estates and schools, to achieve the new goal of 10 per cent.

'Some members of the public might be still unaware of the programme or they might have little knowledge on what rechargeable batteries are about,' Dr Wong. 'We also want to attract more businesses to join the scheme.'

He said there was so far no plan to recycle single-use batteries as they were relatively free of toxins and recycling would be expensive.

Motorola officer Alan Sham Ka-lun, deputy convenor of a coalition of participating businesses, said companies with larger market shares were required to pay more to finance the scheme.

Kobar spokesman K.B. Kim said the factory could take more batteries from Hong Kong because their plant had reached about only two-third of its annual capacity of 1,500 tonnes.