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It’s not just electric vehicles (EVs) and home energy storage systems that are composed of lithium-ion battery (LIBs). Since their commercialisation in 1991, LIBs have become a ubiquitous feature of the modern world. LIBs are found in smartphones, computers and other consumer electronics. The growth in demand for LIBs presents new challenges and opportunities for the waste management sector, which is explored in this report.
Today, Australia has only a modest capacity to recycle LIB waste domestically. Currently, LIB waste is collected by a patchwork of private sector actors who often export it for processing mainly to South Korea for recycling. While challenging to precisely identify the quantity of LIB waste that is collected in Australia, it is estimated that just 3-5 per cent of Australia’s LIB waste is collected for responsible end-of-life processing in Australia – a rate similar to the United States. This compares with an estimated (and mandated) 45 per cent in the European Union, and similar rates in East Asian markets like South Korea and Japan. Given the national volume of LIB waste is growing by 20 per cent every year, government action on dealing with this challenge is well overdue.
This report explores this challenge through a South Australian lens, identifying the opportunities for South Australia’s economy in developing a local capacity to engage in various LIB waste management practices – a $3 billion national industry yet to be developed significantly in Australia, and which provides South Australia a unique opportunity.