ANALYSIS - Success of New EU Waste Battery Law is 2-Way Street
Author: Anna Stablum
Under the new law producers, or third parties acting on their behalf, must finance the collection and recycling of around a million tonnes of batteries annually and pay for media campaigns to ensure consumers will not throw them in the bin.
"Producers will be dependent on the consumers to hand in batteries, so this is a really good example of shared responsibility," Hans Craen, issues manager at the European Portable Battery Association (EPBA), said.
The directive, which has been years in the making, obliges battery producers to finance the collection and recycling of more than a million tonnes of batteries produced each year.
The targets for 2008, the first year it will be in full force, are ambitious, but there are still issues that need to be solved and the actual impact will not be known until later, people familiar with the proposal say.
"We are positive about the directive, but there are issues that could have a significant impact on the sector," Craen said.
"We are concerned about the collection targets, 25 percent should be okay, but 45 percent will be difficult," he added.
The Department of Trade and Industry in the UK said in a press release that it believed that the collection targets for portable batteries of 25 percent of sales by 2012, rising to 45 percent of sales by 2016, were challenging but achievable.
Meanwhile, the targets laid down for recycling are 65 percent by weight for lead-acid batteries and accumulators, 75 percent for nickel-cadmium and 50 percent for others.
"The basic principles of the directive are good and set a realistic basis to implement the targets all over Europe," General Manager Jean-Pol Wiaux at the European Rechargeable Battery Association said.
In several European countries the recycling rate is already close to 95 percent for industrial and automotive batteries, as these are large and contain valuable material, such as lead.
Director General Lindsay Millington at British Metals Recycling Association, said large volumes, like in automotive or industrial batteries, tend to increase the rate of recycling.
However, only six countries collect portable batteries.
About 800,000 tonnes of automotive batteries, 190,000 tonnes of industrial batteries, and 160,000 tonnes of portable (consumer) batteries are placed on the EU market annually.
"For automotive and industrial batteries you have already a high collection and recycling rate so for this branch of the industry the directive doesn't have too much of an impact," Pierre Conrath, EU Affairs Manager at Eurobat, representing manufacturers of automotive and industrial batteries, said.
Large volumes reduce the cost of collection and recycling.
"Metals have a value and if there is sufficient volume of a metal, it will be recycled," Millington said.
However, consumer batteries are small and if there are problems in separating the materials, then it will be questionable how economically viable the process is.
"Our people are commercial operators and they will not be willing to move into recycling just because it is an environmental good -- this is where the challenge comes from," Millington said.
She said some of the necessary technologies are not yet in place to separate and recycle consumer batteries.
"The directive puts the responsibility on the producer, so it is up to them to decide on a system for UK," Millington said.
The European Commission calculated that the recycling and education programmes could cost the industry up to 400 million euros ($512.9 million) annually across Europe.
"The cost will be transferred to the end user, adding a few percent to the price," Wiaux said.
The directive will replace the existing Battery Directive (91/157/EEC).