Mandatory recycling

The European Commission has adopted a Proposal for a new Battery Directive, which will require all batteries placed on the EU market to be collected and recycled, preventing them from ending up in incinerators or landfills.

Approximately 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.

The metals used in those batteries vary considerably: automotive batteries are mainly lead-acid batteries whereas industrial batteries comprise both lead-acid batteries and nickel-cadmium batteries. The portable battery market consists of general purpose batteries (mainly zinc carbon and alkaline manganese batteries), button cells (mainly mercury, zinc air, silver oxide, manganese oxide and lithium batteries) and rechargeable batteries (mainly nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, lithium ion and sealed lead-acid batteries).

As existing legislation only applies to batteries containing certain quantities of cadmium, mercury or lead, it covers only 7% of all portable batteries placed on the EU market annually. Its limited scope, however, has led to inefficiencies in national battery collection and recycling schemes. Moreover, consumers have been confused by what to collect and what not to collect and have therefore not tended to participate in the national collection schemes.

The purpose of the new Proposal aims to establish a ‘closed-loop system’ for all batteries to avoid their incineration or disposal in landfill when they reach the end of their lives. It proposes that all batteries will have to be collected and recycled as well as setting minimum rules for the functioning of national collection and recycling schemes.

Automotive and industrial batteries, which are mainly lead-acid and nickel-cadmium batteries, are already being collected effectively today, because of the positive value of recycled lead and the availability of collection schemes of industrial nickel-cadmium batteries. To guarantee a 100% collection of those batteries, however, the EC now proposes to ban their landfilling and incineration.

For portable batteries, Member States would be required to set up national collection systems to allow consumers to return spent portable batteries free of charge.

After collection, all batteries would be sent to recycling facilities and, here, the new proposal specifies minimum recycling efficiencies, which focuses on the output of the recycling process. The recycling process of lead-acid batteries should recover all the lead and 65% of the average weight of those batteries. The recycling process of nickel-cadmium batteries should recover all the cadmium and at least 75% of the average weight of those batteries. For other batteries, the recycling process should recover 55% of the average weight.

For all types of batteries, it’s the battery producers who would be responsible for costs related to the collection, treatment and recycling. For spent portable batteries, the collection costs could be shared with the national, regional or local authorities. For spent industrial and automotive batteries, producers could conclude agreements on financing with their users.

The Proposal states that Member States will have to keep a register with all battery producers who will have to provide financial guarantees that they are able to manage spent batteries prior to placing their products on the market.

The Commission estimates that the additional annual costs of the proposed collection and recycling rates per household will be between 1 – 2 Euros.

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