Recycling batteries in Hong Kong
Recycling batteries is the second subject I get asked about the most after the quality of tap water in Hong Kong. This post is to clarify why you can't recycle single use batteries in Hong Kong (primary batteries) and how you can recycle rechargeable ones (secondary batteries).
I also compared primary and secondary batteries from a financial, practical and disposal perspective in the city of Hong Kong. I have not taken into consideration the waste generated by the extraction of raw materials, transportations nor packaging.
Maybe in another country, where primary batteries are recycled, I would analyse things differently. I mostly wanted to answer expats in Hong Kong coming from countries where throwing single use batteries in the trash is inconceivable, and give everyone an alternative.
Do we recycle single use batteries in Hong Kong?
NO. Hong Kong does not collect single use batteries, not at Ikea, not at Mc Donalds and not in the MTR, which are the three locations that everyone seems to think of as primary batteries collector. Read Ikea HK's answer, Mc Donald HK's collection policy and the MTR Sustainability Report 2019 on the footnotes.
Many of us have saved our dead single use batteries to take back to our home country for recycling. Some managed to pass customs but some got theirs confiscated at the airport.
Why the city of Hong Kong does not recycle disposable batteries?
Because they are not worth it economically:
Single use batteries are much more expensive to recycle than rechargeable ones.
The small amounts of iron, zinc and manganese that can be recovered have low value.
The recycling facilities are mainly located in Europe and the US so shipping would add to the cost.
Because they are less dangerous than rechargeable batteries:
Single use batteries contain less hazardous metals than rechargeable ones. Read more on mercury restrictions here.
Hong Kong landfills are lined with impermeable liners. Landfill leachate are collected and treated before discharging it into sewers.
Rechargeable batteries vs single use batteries
1. Rechargeable batteries do contain material that can be hazardous to people and the environment.
Some materials such as cadmium are hazardous to human health and the environment. It's better to properly collect and recover these materials rather than risk them seeping into the environment.
2. Even though rechargeable batteries also go to waste eventually, they can be recharged 500 to 1000 times.
Replacing 500 to 1000 single use batteries.
3. Rechargeable batteries can be collected in Hong Kong for recycling and they contain valuable metals.
Like cobalt, nickel, cadmium and iron that can be recovered by recycling and used in other products.
They are not recycled in Hong Kong but exported to Japan and South Korea.
4. Rechargeable batteries are more wallet friendly than single use batteries in the long run.
A quick comparative of batteries and chargers:
4 standard AA single use Alkaline batteries = 11HKD (Decathlon)
2 standard AA single use Lithium batteries = 39HKD (GP Batteries)
4 standard AA rechargeable batteries = 61HKD (ReCyko+)
Ikea charger 100 HKD, can recharge both 4 AA or 4 AAA batteries
ReCyko+ charger, sold with 4 AA can recharge 4 AA only (AAA charger same price but different product)
Single use batteries do have longer shelf life guaranteed than rechargeable ones (10 vs 7 years), but I do not feel it’s an element of comparison as I buy batteries for immediate use.
5. Rechargeable batteries are practical.
You always have batteries at hand when you need them!
As a mother of two young kids I really do enjoy that point and when I am asked an advice on a present for a little one, I always recommend to avoid a battery powered toy, but if you do gift one, go the extra mile and offer rechargeable batteries and a charger with it!
If you choose disposable batteries: select ones that are Mercury-free and Cadmium-free. If you opt for rechargeable batteries, you MUST recycle them properly!
Recycling your rechargeable batteries in Hong Kong
Since 2005, we can drop off our rechargeable batteries in many outlets, shops and bins across the city, as part of the governmental Rechargeable Battery Recycling Programme.
What type of batteries are recycled?
The three common types of household rechargeable batteries: Li-ion, Ni-MH and Ni-Cd.
Where are the collection points?
About 650 public collection points have been set up across Hong Kong.
How to recycle them?
The waste reduction website recommends covering the battery terminal with masking tape as a safety precaution to prevent contact between terminals or other metal surfaces during storage and transport.
Do not put damaged rechargeable batteries into the collection boxes.
Put batteries that are vulnerable to damage in a sealed plastic bag.
Are you a school or a property management, an importer or a manufacture of batteries? Read more here to join the program.
If you got any valuable information from this article, please share it with your friends and help me spread the word to NOT throw single use batteries in rechargeable batteries bin for a more efficient recycling, and consider following me on social media. Thanks!
Answer from IKEA:
Mc Donald's Hong Kong info on collecting batteries in restaurants:
As for the MTR collection bins, I found no information on batteries collection on the website nor on the Sustainability Report 2019.