The best features in recycling
Lighting the way
Volunteering in the waste and resources sector is anything but new. In the first of what will become a regular feature profiling community organisations in Resource, Rachel Osborne shines a light on the CoBRA scheme
“With a bit of thought it’s possible to achieve everything”, says Mark David Hatwood, founder of Community Bulb/Battery Recycling Alliance (CoBRA). And looking at what he’s accomplished in the last four years, you’d have to agree with him.
Hatwood founded CoBRA in 2007. Having lived in Germany for 12 years, where batteries were recycled with ease, he simply couldn’t understand why the UK didn’t have a similar diversion system: “I just thought, if the Germans can do it, why can’t we?”
Batteries can be environmentally harmful as they contain toxic materials like mercury. If disposed of in landfill, the casing can disintegrate, potentially leaching toxic chemicals into the surrounding ecosystem.
With this in mind, Hatwood approached his local council for advice. He was told to take his batteries to a household waste recycling centre (HWRC), which he admits wasn’t an appealing or environmentally worthwhile option considering the 40-mile trip from his home in rural Cornwall that it would entail.
Fortunately, Hatwood isn’t a man to take no for an answer: “I suggested that I collect old batteries on behalf of my village, but they told me that wasn’t possible either. In the end, I negotiated with them and we managed to find a loophole that enabled a volunteer to collect waste under a council’s waste license.”
Hatwood placed a collection tube in his local post office, and encouraged fellow residents to pop their dead batteries in it. A month later, he picked up the tube and disposed of all the batteries at the HWRC: “The next thing I knew, the press was involved and people kept ringing me asking me how I’d managed it.”
Local councils contacted Hatwood, and he began to assist them in implementing volunteering schemes across Cornwall, encouraging members of the public to do as he had. Three years later, CoBRA had established 58 battery collection locations in Cornwall and collected over 35 tonnes of batteries. “We use 600 million batteries in this country a year, and we were recycling less that two per cent; by the time we’d finished in Cornwall [as many people had stored up batteries for years], we’d managed to raise that to 1,500 per cent.”
But Hatwood says he “tend[s] to look forward rather than back”. In March 2010, he contacted Nigel Harvey, Chief Executive of Recolight, to tell him about CoBRA. He suggested the scheme might be adapted and used to collect compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), too. These bulbs, like batteries, contain mercury that can be extremely hazardous.
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