The Push for Battery Recycling /p>
The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has launched a
campaign this year aimed at raising public awareness about the
importance of recycling used batteries. Taiwan has a low recycling rate
for batteries of 17% -- the rest, amounting to about 7,400 metric tons
a year, are simply thrown away. When those batteries are burned in
incinerators, dioxins and other toxic wastes are released into the
atmosphere and often return to earth as acid rain.
To improve the recycling rate, the EPA has adopted a two-pronged
strategy targeted at communities and schools throughout Taiwan. One
program involves a raffle drawing. Individuals who return ten batteries
before May 31 to their local convenience store -- 7-11, Family Mart,
O-K, or others -- can receive an "environmental action card." Using the
password on this card, they may log onto the EPA web site on specific
days to see if they have won a prize. The first drawing was already
held on February 5, and three others are scheduled this year: on June 5
(Earth Day), September 28 (Teacher's Day), and December 25 (Christmas
Day). The prizes include notebook computers, bicycles, and digital
The EPA has distributed 50 environmental action cards to each of
several thousand convenience stores nationwide, but if stores have run
out of cards, consumers are advised to try another convenience store or
a local EPA office.
The EPA's second program focuses on students in 1,000 selected schools
island-wide, from the primary level through college. The EPA gives
these schools NT$10,000 or more, depending on the student enrollment,
and stipulates that the money be used in a school-sponsored activity --
poster campaign, game, art exhibition, sports contest, or other event
-- aimed at promoting battery recycling.
The raffle contest organized by the EPA resembles a program jointly
sponsored last December by the Taipei City government and Gillette
(Taiwan) Inc., maker of Duracell batteries. That event had an
unfortunate outcome, though, when the city's Environmental Protection
Department (EPD) and Gillette became unwitting victims of a financial
scam organized by an unscrupulous businessman affiliated with an
environmental foundation. Under the rules of the month-long campaign,
consumers who turned in ten batteries at their local convenience stores
would receive numbered coupons. The numbers could then be entered in a
lucky draw contest, with prizes awarded to the winners.
To help fund the campaign, Gillette and the EPD each contributed money
and Gillette also donated prizes. The EPD subcontracted the
organization of the raffle to the now-discredited foundation. The
police have charged the man responsible for making the lucky draw, the
husband of a foundation employee, with "illegal appropriation and
forged documents" and released him on NT$50,000 bail. He is accused of
falsifying the list of raffle winners with fictitious names and then
pocketing some of the prizes. With police help, the EPD has since
reconstituted the original list and distributed prizes, including a
number of laptop computers, to the rightful winners.
"Our participation in the program was driven by a desire to help the
public by educating consumers about recycling," Gillette said in a
statement. "We had absolutely no involvement in any misleading actions.
We always operate under the highest ethical standards and we would
never condone any measures to mislead consumers."
Despite this unfortunate episode, Gillette has not given up on trying
to heighten citizen awareness about battery recycling. Andrew Houlberg,
the company's general manager in Taiwan, is a strong advocate of the
importance of proper recycling. He explains that if consumers are
encouraged to use long-lasting alkaline batteries instead of the
zinc-carbon batteries that currently have a 65% market share, used
battery disposal could be reduced to about one-third the current
volume. Manufacturers who participate in the recycling program by
paying fees of NT$20 per kilogram of used batteries may display an
environmentally friendly logo -- four green arrows -- on their
packaging, though manufacturers doubt they receive much promotional
value by doing so.
The EPA aims to raise the recycling rate to 20% in 2005 and then to 30%
in 2006. It calculates that a 30% recycling rate would provide enough
volume to induce companies to invest in treatment of used batteries.
The cost of setting up such a facility is estimated by EPA to be at
least US$6 million for the smallest scale operation. The materials
recovered include lead, mercury, cadmium, and nickel, which are sold to
steel refiners or used in other industrial processes.
Spent batteries are currently exported to the United States or France,
where they are recycled. "Many companies here would be interested in
treating used batteries, but they will need government encouragement
and also enough volume to make it work," Houlberg says. "Instead of
exporting used batteries to be recycled, put the money into local
businesses that can do it here."
At least one overseas group is also entering the market. PEAT
International of Northbrook, Illinois, which is currently completing
construction of a hazardous and medical waste treatment facility at
National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, is also part of a consortium
planning a multipurpose waste management center for Taiwan. A site has
not yet been decided on for the plant, which would handle batteries in
addition to other forms of waste.