Experts urge care with battery disposal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 1994, 12:00am

BATTERIES should be disposed of separately from ordinary rubbish because they contain harmful metals and may pose a long-term threat to the environment, green groups and battery experts urge.

Hong Kong residents throw away more than 100 million batteries a year, according to industry estimates reported last year, and most end up in landfills. Some are also thrown into the sea.

But Dr Kinny Yeung Lee-kin, a battery expert at the Hong Kong Productivity Council, said batteries in landfills could leak metals into the ground water or sewer system, or give off vapours, and those destroyed in incinerators gave off toxic fumes.

''Hong Kong has two different methods for disposing of batteries [and all rubbish], landfills and burning in incinerators, and neither is a proper method to treat those metals found in batteries,'' Dr Yeung said.

There are six different types of consumer battery and they may contain mercury, nickel and cadmium, either as a major ingredient or additive.

''So-called 'environment-friendly' batteries use other things to replace mercury or cadmium, but they still contain other toxic metals,'' he said.

Dr Yeung suggested people should be educated to separate batteries from their other waste and a recycling plant be set up to recover the metals.

The United States and much of Europe already have collection systems and this is being investigated by other countries, such as Taiwan.

The Environmental Protection Department's assistant director, Mike Stokoe, said the issue of household hazardous waste was being covered by a major consultancy study on waste reduction, due in the middle of next year.

But Lisa Hopkinson of Friends of the Earth said this was not good enough.

''That's the standard response to any question about waste, but it won't be ready for 18 months. I'm sure there are things that could be done now, perhaps by promoting rechargeable batteries or trying to recover metals before sending them for disposal,''she said.

But Mr Stokoe insisted batteries were not a problem if disposed of in a properly-designed landfill.

However, Austrian scientist Dr Karl Kordesch, who has worked on battery research since 1955 and was in Hong Kong last week to promote a new rechargeable alkaline manganese battery, said battery disposal was nonetheless a problem worldwide and everyone was looking for a solution.