Robert Wilson

Talking Energy speaks with Robert Wilson - pictured - one of those who started the initiative. Robert is the Manager for Wholesale Products in Channel Partnerships – a job that entails looking to bring innovative solutions to add further demand management opportunities to Ergon and its customers.

Can you remember what the trigger was to get this great initiative off the ground?

The realisation that as a large organisation we had the capacity to make a difference if we established some kind of program to recycle batteries – even if it was only making it easy for employees (they come to work every day) to bring in their own batteries.

What kinds of batteries are collected at Ergon sites?

I try to collect as many consumable battery types as I can – from button batteries through to large 6V batteries (the sort used in Dolphin© torches), but I have also taken some laptop batteries and larger Lithium Ion batteries. To date, I haven’t had anyone leave a battery that isn’t sealed (such as lead-acid) or ones that are so heavy they can’t bring them in themselves.

Do you have a specific interest in batteries?

Yes. I do a lot of camping and installed a 12V battery power system in my camper trailer. With the research and installation of this system I learnt a lot about “all things battery” related. It broadened my horizons into the flexibility of battery charging and storage (from rechargeable AAA batteries through to 12V deep-cycle systems) and being able to use batteries for a host of things for making camping life easier that otherwise we generally use mains power for.

But it also opened my eyes to the seemingly little awareness and effort put into reclaiming the useful parts and chemicals in batteries we use every day. While there are reasonably well-known programs for lead-acid, car batteries and mobile phone batteries, most people simply bin their other used batteries. These go to landfill and as they decay can leach chemicals into the soil, contaminating for future use and potentially releasing toxins in to local water courses – with all the associated negative impacts this generates.

My interest in batteries is to use them as much as possible (recharge and use instead of mains power), and then to ensure that once they’ve reached their life expectancy they are disposed of correctly for reclaiming of rare-earth metals and chemicals for reuse, but principally to not leave a toxic legacy for the next generations to clear up.

Do you believe battery recycling should be a feature in every home, and if so how would you encourage it?

Definitely, it needs to be made easy/safe for households to collect batteries. Ultimately I believe it just needs to be easy for batteries to be collected as part of the existing waste recycling program that exists today. If batteries could be added to the normal recycling bin we use on a weekly basis, this would be a huge leap forward.

How do you feel when you see how it has grown over the past couple of years?

Very pleased to see that there are some like-minded people, some even keener than I am, to make a difference and volunteer their time and effort to run a local program in their office or workplace. These are the people that have made the recycling batteries within Ergon a success. While it is not hard to administer, there is effort required in collection and disposal of batteries. Some battery recycling efforts out there can charge you for disposal of batteries if they are considered to be in “commercial” quantities. It seems the more we talk about this initiative through our communication channels at Ergon Energy, the more employees want to get involved – it’s very heartening to see colleagues want to be involved in good causes.

Is there anything else that you’d like to see done?

I’d like to see Ergon Energy forge ahead with an internal, formal battery recycling program that it could potentially expand to a customer collection system. In Ergon’s case, something like Ergon branded bins in local supermarkets. There would be a cost involved but it would also be a great opportunity to demonstrate our community engagement and environmental credentials.

The business has been very supportive of the informal office and depot programs and the collection is helping with our Green Building credentials here in Brisbane. I also I did my research with regards to safe collection methods and equipment to minimise any risk to staff or myself in managing such a collection regime.

If there was someone from another organisation reading this and wondering how they could do what you are doing, what advice would you give them?

People want to do the right thing, by enlarge. Make it easy for them to be involved and they will. Promote and encourage involvement and make people think they are contributing as part of a bigger entity, keep them informed of progress and success and it will make the program grow and succeed.

There are now 14 battery recycling stations at Ergon workplaces at Brisbane, Townsville, Rockhampton, Cairns, Toowoomba, Theodore, Moura, Banyo and South Burnett. Rockhampton employees have been the latest to become involved - handing in 21kg of batteries in their first month of collecting.

National Recycling Week