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Cyclops Marine 2023 November - LEADERBOARD

Yachties helping with the disposal of old batteries

by Birgit Hackle 6 Apr 01:22 UTC
Yachties helping with the disposal of old batteries © Birgit Hackle

There are no facilities in Fiji to dispose of A, AA and AAA batteries, so empty batteries pile up in villages and pose a hazard for health and nature. If you take a container with collected used batteries with you to dispose of in NZ or Australia you can help the villagers to keep their islands and lagoons clean!

We grew up in the 1980s when awareness about pollution and rubbish disposal was kicking in in Austria along with big-scale campaigns at schools to clean up forests, creeks and of course bins in all colours in each class-room for rubbish separation. Thus brainwashed we are simply not able to throw recyclables or (even worse) hazardous material into the general rubbish, but wait until we get to one of the few corners where recycling is done in Fiji (e.g. Musket Cove Marina and Denarau Marina) and try to dispose of everything correctly. In Fiji recycling is only tentatively starting and out on the remote islands there are simply no means to dispose of rubbish apart from burning and landfill.

Visiting remote places out in the Lau group and around Kadavu we were horrified to see old batteries (A to AAA) just lying next to the footpath in villages or charred remains in fire sites. Yes, alkaline batteries are not nearly as dangerous as lead-acid batteries, but they are still considered hazardous waste in most countries. They are no longer supposed to contain mercury, but who knows if that's true for no-name brands sold on Pacific islands? The remaining other metals and corrosive chemicals in all batteries (new and old) still leak into the soil and most likely on into the ocean when they are just left to rot in landfills.

Even the Energizer website warns: "Leakage from an alkaline battery is caustic and handling should be avoided to prevent chemical burns. If attempting to clean battery leakage from a device, proper safety equipment would be advised." Doesn't sound as harmless as some other websites would make you believe.

We therefore talked to the villagers about the dangers of batteries and of course they asked what to do. We promised answers and made inquiries in Suva, expecting electronics shops and other sales points for batteries to take them back. But no, they had never even heard of the concept of battery disposal, neither had recycling centres (only lead-acid). So what to do? We immediately thought of the yachtie fleet that sails down to New Zealand or on to Australia each season after visiting Fiji. If each of them could take a few batteries with them and dispose of them correctly at a waste centre station in New Zealand or Australia (not in a Fijian marina!!) it would mean a lot to the little villages. Of course we cannot tackle Fiji's general rubbish problem, but at least we can help those in remote places who generously welcome visiting boats in their bays and villages and expect nothing in return, but are grateful for each small favour!

So far the villages on Ono (just north of Kadavu) and Matuku (southwestern Lau) have started collecting old batteries in 2-litre and gallon containers, but more may follow soon. If you visit an island, please ask whether you should take along a bottle filled with batteries, leave more containers for them to fill and encourage them to participate in the program!

Christian and Birgit have been cruising on their SY Pitufa for 13 years, 10 of those in the South Pacific. As environmental-aware sailors they try to do their share to raise awareness for nature and help little communities. Check out their blog or read their books "Towards the Horizon" (about their first years of travel) and "Cruising Know-How" (a collection of articles) available on Amazon.

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