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LCQ16: Recovery and treatment of waste batteries

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, at the Legislative Council meeting today (November 10):


     The Consumer Council had indicated in its test report on single-use batteries published on October 15 of this year that after testing 18 models of single-use zinc carbon batteries, it found that the contents of mercury and cadmium in some of the models had exceeded the limits set in the European Union directive on environmental protection.  The report also pointed out that there was neither regulation on heavy metal content for single-use batteries in Hong Kong, nor was there any recovery system.  An organisation had relayed to me earlier on that it had planned to launch a battery recovery programme in the districts so as to promote environmental education, but since there was no recycler willing to undertake the recovery of batteries, the programme was eventually shelved.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the number of single-use batteries discarded in Hong Kong in each of the past five years, and among them, the respective numbers of such batteries discarded at landfills and those being shipped overseas for handling, as well as the percentages of zinc carbon batteries in such batteries; how the authorities ensure that such batteries will not cause pollution to the environment after they are discarded;

(b) whether it has ascertained the reasons for the lack of recyclers undertaking battery recovery in Hong Kong at present, and how the authorities will render assistance to promote the development of the aforesaid recycling industry;

(c) whether at present, discarded batteries, before being shipped overseas for handling, are required to go through the relevant government departments for vetting and approval or to meet international standards; if so, of the details;

(d) whether it will request battery manufacturers to list the heavy metal content of zinc carbon batteries for the reference of consumers, and whether it will study introducing a legislation to regulate the heavy metal content of zinc carbon batteries;

(e) of the current recovery rate of rechargeable batteries recovered by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD); whether EPD will consider extending the scope of recovery to cover single-use batteries; and

(f) since EPD had indicated in its Policy Framework for the Management of Municipal Waste (2005-2014) that it had planned to include rechargeable batteries in the producer responsibility schemes and would consider banning the disposal of certain specific products at landfills, whether it will study afresh the aforesaid suggestions; if it will, of the specific timetable for implementation?



(a) The quantity of single-use batteries disposed of at landfills over the past five years is as follows:

Year     Quantity of single-use
         batteries disposed of (tonnes)
2005            5,600
2006            3,400
2007            2,700
2008            2,600
2009            2,300

     The shipment of waste batteries for treatment overseas is governed by the Waste Disposal Ordinance and an export permit for this purpose is required.  Over the past five years, EPD has not received any application for export permit involving single-use batteries.

     Separately, the percentage of zinc carbon batteries is not available.  Based on the information provided by the industry, we estimate that single-use batteries used in Hong Kong are mostly alkaline types which generally do not contain heavy metals.  No mercury, cadmium or lead has been detected in all the alkaline battery samples in the recent test by the Consumer Council.

     As for the heavy metal content of zinc carbon batteries, we commissioned in mid-2010 an independent laboratory to conduct the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure for several battery samples with a relatively high lead or cadmium content.  The findings reveal that all the models contain very low leachable amounts of lead and cadmium and meet safety standards.  This indicates that the strong bonding of lead and cadmium with other substances in the batteries precludes substantial leaching even in a corrosive setting and therefore will not cause pollution to the environment.  Moreover, we cover the landfills with impermeable liners, and the leachate of waste is collected and treated before discharge into sewers to ensure that the environment will not be affected;

(b) Hong Kong and many other places in the world do not arrange for the recovery and treatment of single-use batteries because the costs of recycling these batteries are relatively high, and the value of the small amounts of iron, zinc and manganese that can be recovered is low.

     We encourage the public to use rechargeable batteries instead of single-use ones as far as possible.  Besides, we launched the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Programme (the Programme) jointly with the industry in 2005.  The Programme, being the first voluntary producer responsibility scheme (PRS) in Hong Kong, is supported and funded by 36 manufacturers and importers. The Programme provides 538 public collection points and 1,881 collection points at various housing estates, commercial and industrial buildings and schools to provide the collection service;

(c) The export of waste batteries (including single-use and rechargeable batteries) is governed by the Waste Disposal Ordinance.  In line with the requirements under the international Basel Convention, exporters are required to deliver the batteries in an environmental and safe manner to proper facilities for recycling.  The EPD must also have the consent of the competent authority of the place of import before issuing a permit;

(d) In the light of the Consumer Council's test results, we will write to relevant manufacturers and advise them to refer to the environmental standards and labelling requirements as set out in the European Union directive, and encourage them to use suitable substitutes to replace hazardous heavy metals in the manufacture of zinc carbon batteries.

     We do not see the urgent need to regulate single-use batteries as their disposal does not cause serious pollution.  Rechargeable batteries, which can be re-used hundreds of times, are more cost-effective to recycle and create less waste.  Therefore, we will continue to encourage the public to use them as far as possible as well as to promote their recovery;  

(e) Since the launch of the Programme, 214 tonnes of rechargeable batteries (about 1 million batteries) have been recycled.  We have no plan to extend the scope of recovery to single-use batteries for the time being; and

(f) The Progamme implemented since 2005 is the first voluntary PRS in Hong Kong. The Legislative Council passed the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance in July 2008 to provide legal basis for the implementation of statutory producer responsibility schemes.  We have implemented the Environmental Levy Scheme on Plastic Shopping Bags as the first PRS under the Ordinance.  We are preparing to implement the next mandatory PRS for waste electrical and electronic equipment.  We will continue to look into the waste management problems caused by other products with a view to working out specific action plans for the future.

Ends/Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:35


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