New Internationalist

Assault and batteries

Using the slogan 'What goes around comes around', a new campaign launched by Greenpeace warns about the need for the careful environmental management of common household waste products - including batteries - at the end of their useful life.

A group of activists, dressed up as pets and holding up the logos of battery brands, launched the campaign at the Obelisk, a central point in the city of Buenos Aires. They were accompanied by a six-metre high inflatable battery emblazoned with the words 'the polluter pays'. 

The campaign is urging consumers to demand that manufacturers take charge of used batteries. Over the course of just two weeks, more than 72,000 people sent messages to a range of transnational corporations, including Energizer, Panasonic, Kodak, Procter & Gamble, Canon, Hewlett Packard and Nokia. 

Batteries, which contain toxic components, often end up in landfill or on open-air dumps, in common with most of the garbage produced in the country.  

'The consumption of batteries tends to increase year on year, not only because of population growth but also because of the constant increase in the amount of electrical and electronic equipment that uses them,' explained Yanina Rullo, a member of Greenpeace's campaign. 'The management of this waste is a huge problem for the different municipalities trying to create plans for collection of batteries, which then do not get disposed of properly.'

While batteries represent a small percentage of total municipal solid waste they are, together with electrical waste and electronic equipment, one of the most significant contributors of heavy metals into the environment. All batteries contain hazardous metals such as cadmium, mercury, lead, manganese, nickel, zinc and lithium. In countries like France, Canada, Sweden and Spain these metals are recycled and reused by industry. Today it is possible to recover up to 90 per cent of material from rechargeable batteries and about 50 per cent from common batteries, if systems are put in place to recycle properly.

Greenpeace wants to pass a law on the management of electronic waste which will take into account the responsibility of the producer.

'Batteries, along with other electrical and electronic equipment, are currently in a grey area with regard to current waste legislation. On the one hand, they are treated as common waste and put in dustbins, because they arise from the usual flow of domestic waste, but on the other the battery's components meet the criteria of hazardous waste,' explained Maria Eugenia Testa, policy director of Greenpeace. 'It is worrying that manufacturers ignore the problem of what happens to the waste generated by their products.'

Companies are shirking their responsibilities in Argentina, even though in other countries where they operate, they abide by the rules of the land and assume legal responsibility for disposal of their products.

Watch the video of the demonstration on YouTube.

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