Waste batteries proposal curtails evidence trading

Systems to manage spent batteries were outlined in a recent consultation paper. If the proposals go to plan, the regime could begin on 1 January 2010.

Evidence trading is to be curtailed under plans for a UK producer responsibility system to collect, treat and recycle used batteries. The proposals were outlined in draft Regulations issued for consultation on 22 December 2008.1 The consultation runs until 13 February 2009.

The EU’s batteries Directive requires member states to collect 25% of household batteries by 2012. To do so, the UK must increase collections from the current 900 tonnes per year to 7,500 tonnes. The target rises to 45% in 2016.

The draft Regulations require battery makers or importers, so-called ‘producers’, to finance collection, treatment and recycling of spent household batteries. Retailers and distance sellers or ‘distributors’ will have to take back spent batteries for free.

The government hopes this is the final consultation needed to fully implement the EU’s batteries Directive. It wants the first compliance period to run for a year, beginning 1 January 2010.

Regulations implementing the batteries Directive’s internal market provisions, such as battery labelling and heavy metal restrictions, came into force in September last year (ENDS Report 404, p 41 ). But Regulations on the Directive’s producer responsibility requirements have been repeatedly delayed.

A row between producers over the financing of collections caused early delays (ENDS Report 399, pp 37-38 ). Further delays followed a stand-off between producer compliance schemes over evidence trading, which threatened to undermine the regime dealing with waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) (ENDS Report 403, p 23 ). The batteries Regulations have since been designed to avoid a similar situation taking place, largely through new scheme approval procedures.

The policy is to be reviewed annually, with a full-scale review scheduled for 2012 when the first collection target must be met.

  • Producer compliance schemes: The government rejected a single compliance scheme, opting instead for a system of competing schemes, which it hopes will keep producer costs down.

    All producers, regardless of size, must register with a compliance scheme by 15 October in the year preceding the compliance period, and provide quarterly sales data. However, producers placing less than three tonnes of portable batteries per year on the UK market will be exempt from financial obligations. This means costs will be met by larger producers numbering "less than 100 and probably less than 50".

    As with other producer responsibility schemes, those setting up a compliance scheme must submit an operational plan to the relevant environment agency stating how it will be run. But in a move away from existing producer responsibility regimes, regulators are likely only to approve operational plans that ensure obligations are met through a scheme’s own collections, rather than by relying on evidence trading at the end of the year.

    But some trading may be inevitable. While no evidence will be traded in 2010 and 2012, schemes exceeding the 2012 collection target and onwards will be able to trade surplus evidence. If all schemes meet their obligations and require no extra evidence, producers will be responsible for covering the costs of the extra batteries they collect.

  • Collections: Battery compliance schemes are "likely to set up their own collection networks in order to meet their targets" and are "free to choose the collection methods that they consider to be the most effective".

    Shops selling new batteries, unless they are in electronic products, will have a legal obligation to take back spent ones. Only smaller shops - those with floor space less than 280 square metres and shops selling less than 16 kilograms of household batteries per year - will be exempt from take-back obligations because of concerns over transport impacts.

    Many schemes are likely to seek formal arrangements with larger retailers to secure battery tonnages. But if retailers do not enter into an agreement, the Regulations allow them to contact any compliance scheme to arrange a collection. Schemes may be forced to work together to minimise the transport impacts.

    But it is unlikely that shop collections will be enough to meet targets. Kerbside collections and collection points at civic amenity sites, libraries, schools and postal returns are other options expected to be explored by compliance schemes. While local authorities are likely to be key partners for schemes, they will not be legally required to be involved.

    DEFRA is proposing to exempt sites collecting less than 500kg of batteries from notification requirements under hazardous waste regulations. In practice, this should exempt all shops and other battery collection points.

    But any transportation of waste batteries must comply with hazardous waste and dangerous goods legislation, the government has confirmed. Talks are under way, however, on " proportionate regulation" of the issuing of consignment notes when batteries are moved.

  • Targets: Interim targets have been set to allow the government, schemes and producers to monitor progress in meeting collection targets (see table). The government hopes this will reduce the risk and cost of infraction if collection targets are missed. Producers will not be penalised if these are not met, but schemes "failing badly" to meet them could have their approval removed.

    The Regulations set out how producers’ obligations will be calculated. For 2010, sales data in 2008 and 2009 will form the basis of the calculation. From 2011 onwards, sales data from the three preceding years will be used.

  • Treatment, recycling and evidence: Evidence will be issued on the amount of batteries delivered to treatment facilities. Approval is needed from the environment agencies to issue evidence, in a process similar to that for WEEE and packaging waste.

    Authorised battery treatment facilities will be permitted through the existing environmental permitting system, meaning existing operators would not need to apply for another permit.

    All batteries must be treated and recycled according to the best available technique. The European Commission is currently investigating methods for calculating recycling efficiencies.

    All facilities will have to keep an audit trail of battery consignments and produce an annual, audited report on their activities.

    As many batteries will be exported for recycling, provisions have been made for approved exporters to issue evidence on a site-specific basis. They must also maintain audit trails.

  • Enforcement: Environmental regulators will be responsible for: monitoring compliance among schemes and producers; approving compliance schemes; registering producers; processing data; approving treatment facilities, exporters and sorting centres; and acting to ensure compliance.

    The government will fund enforcement, while other activities will be funded through charges. Because the approval process for compliance schemes will be more involved than that under WEEE, a one-off application charge of £17,000 is being proposed. Annual costs for monitoring schemes will be £149,000.

    The Secretary of State has still to appoint a body to enforce the distributor take-back requirement.

  • Industrial and automotive batteries: Because most industrial and automotive batteries are recycled to the efficiency levels required by the Directive, the government intends to maintain the status quo while providing a safety net in case of market disruption. Incineration or landfilling of these batteries will be banned.

    Producers of both industrial and automotive batteries will not have to join a compliance scheme. But they will have to report and register the tonnages and chemistry of batteries placed on the market and which end up as waste in the UK. This must be done annually to BERR. Tonnage and chemistry data for industrial waste batteries collected and delivered to reprocessors, or exported for treatment and recycling, must also be supplied.

    Take-back provisions apply. Industrial battery producers must take back waste ones free of charge when supplying new ones if a waste battery is of the same chemistry as those it supplies or has supplied in the past. Automotive battery producers must also take back batteries on request from ‘final holders’ such as end-of-life vehicle treatment facilities and civic amenity sites.

    This policy is due to be reviewed in 2012 or 2013.

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