Battling battery blunders

More revelations about the Exide battery recycling plant in Petone have come out in today’s Dominon Post.

Greenpeace has also come out in favour of keeping the ability to recycle this hazardous waste here in New Zealand. This echoed Dave Clendon’s call last week in the house and his post about the need to uphold our ethical and legal obligations.

As the DomPost article points out, the plant in Petone hasn’t always acted as a responsible company should. It has put the workers and community’s health in danger. But the answer is not to close the plant and ship our hazardous materials to somewhere else where we cannot see it and some other workers and communities get sick because of it.

A 2003 report by Greenpeace on used lead acid battery (ULAB) recycling in the Phillipines — where we are still shipping our batteries to — shows that we’re simply shifting the problem.

Last March, Greenpeace received information that (Philippine Recyclers Incorporated) PRI was once again importing its supply of ULABs from New Zealand, an OECD country, in blatant disregard of the intent of the Basel Ban. Inquiries made by the Greens Parliamentary Research Office to the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment revealed that PRI has been importing ULABs from that country in several instances from 2000 to 2002. This information has since been verified by Greenpeace research on import permits issued by the EMB to PRI in the last three years.

In 2000, New Zealand exported about 738 metric tons of ULABs to PRI, which was followed by 2,500 MT of ULABs in 2001 from a New Zealand company called Resource Recyclers Tech. More recently, in November and December of 2002, PRI imported ULABs from New Zealand totaling 720 MT and 210 MT respectively.

As a party to the Basel Convention, the New Zealand government is aware of the problems associated with the recycling of hazardous wastes like ULABs in developing countries. Yet, the New Zealand Minister for the Environment justifies its decision to allow these toxic exports to the Philippines by saying that the wastes are going to “proper” facility. The New Zealand government also cites that PRI has acquired ISO 9002 and ISO 14001 certifications in an obvious bid to rationalize its controversial decision and bolster PRI’s image as an environmentally sound operation.

So we’ve been violating the Basel Convention for over a decade now, and, if Exide has to shut down we’ll have no way of meeting our obligations.

To make the situation better we need to do a few things:

  • Ensure proper regulation of companies recycling hazardous waste in New Zealand to ensure health and safety of workers and communities
  • Make sure the regulation favours domestic recycling of our waste, not just shipping the problem overseas.
  • A more rigorous assessment of international recycling plants by the Ministry of Economic Development (as required under Basel), not just hand written notes saying “fine by me”.
  • A review of whatever decision allowed a battery recycling plant to be situated right in the middle of a residential area and subsequent changes to RMA or applicable legislation to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.

Our goal should be getting New Zealand to zero waste. To do this, we need the capacity and the resolve to recyle our own mess.

7 Comments Posted

  1. I agree its a social responsibility to dispose off used batteries in a safe way. Exporting used batteries to Philippines where a special unit exists to recycle these batteries is a better option because the plant might be functional for years and they might have learned the way to dispose off batteries in a efficient way that does not pollute the environment. I am with you for the suggestion of devising a proper legislation that contains of a proper plan to dispose off such batteries.

  2. frog says “So we’ve been violating the Basel Convention for over a decade now”

    So how come other countries in the Basel Convention (like USA) are allowed to export used lead acid batteries when they have their own recycling plants?

    Could it be that batteries are not waste to be disposed of, but a commodity (albeit toxic – like a new battery) to be recycled (which is far more environmentally friendly than making a battery with new lead).

    And if they are not being disposed of as waste, what’s the difference between shifting old batteries between countries, and new batteries between countries? (except the new ones are initially more environmentally damaging to make).

    If we recycle them here in an environmentally sound way, that’s great.

    But while you lobby on behalf of Exide, it doesn’t sound like you even know which facility (Philippines, Korea or Petone) has the best environmental practices.

  3. Does the Petone plant have the same ISO certifications? I spent 16 or so years working in laboratories and these types of accreditation are a reasonable indication that the organisation has appropriate systems in place to minimise and manage risk, and to work to continuously improve their operations. If the Exide recycling plant does not meet these international standards, and if it has failed in the past to control its emissions, then they need to work to ensure that residents nearby, and the greater environment, are not going to be adversely affected in the future. If they can get their house in order, and work to gain accreditation against the same international standards, then we ought to support a local industry while simultaneously meeting our obligations as a responsible international citizen.

  4. As an ex Petone-ite I have to say that the Exide factory is well within a lead-particulate’s throw from a lot of homes.

    Unrelated to Exide’s need to keep it’s emissions in check, I do remember the irony in the article in the Hutt News about one neighbor worrying about inhaling Exide’s toxins when she went outside her house to SMOKE.

  5. If you want to be really depressed, this recent Human Rights Watch report on lead contamination in China should do the trick:

    “My Children Have Been Poisoned”: A Public Health Crisis in Four Chinese Provinces

    This 75-page report draws on research in heavily lead-contaminated villages in Henan, Yunnan, Shaanxi, and Hunan provinces. The report documents how, despite increasing regulation and sporadic enforcement targeting polluting factories, local authorities are ignoring the urgent and long-term health consequences of a generation of children continuously exposed to life-threatening levels of lead.

  6. Rich: Sure, if you zoom into the plant that far. I’m now a Petone resident a within 5 mins walking distance of the plant and stayed on Jessie Street — literally less than a stones throw away. It is definitely in the middle of a residential area. Especially when you consider that if you go 3 minutes down the road, over the river you are in a fully industrial area.

    I take your point that sticking it in the middle of no where is also not the answer: no one wants one of these places in their back yard, but it seems weird that local council gave consent to having a highly toxic plant within a community.

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