Government confirms delay to battery regime

The new producer responsibility regime for batteries will not be introduced in September - the deadline set by the batteries Directive.

The government has confirmed that it will not make the 26 September deadline for bringing in a new producer responsibility regime for waste batteries. The new regime is now not likely to come into force until 2009.

In its response to an earlier consultation on the regime implementing the batteries Directive (ENDS Report 396, pp 38-40 ), the government confirmed that regulations implementing internal market provisions, such as battery labelling and heavy metal restrictions, will be introduced by late September.1 However a consultation on draft regulations implementing the Directive’s other provisions is now not expected until later in the autumn.

The Environment Department (DEFRA) and the Business Department (BERR), which are leading on implementation, said the delay would be "some weeks" and that it was still aiming to transpose the Directive by the end of the year. However, DEFRA’s update on progress with its waste strategy confirms that the new system will not enter into force until 2009.2 Blame has been laid on the "considerable complexity involved in setting up an effective and efficient system for portable batteries… especially given the UK’s very low collection rates as present."

The Directive requires member states to collect 25% of portable batteries by 2012. The UK must step up collections from the current 900 tonnes to 7,500 tonnes. The target rises to 45% in 2016.

It is understood that a main sticking point has been a row over the extent of producers’ responsibilities, specifically the collection of batteries from end users.

Battery producers have maintained that government should organise and pay for portable battery collections as it is best placed to develop an efficient system (ENDS Report 399, pp 37-38 ).

But they appear to have lost this battle. The government has repeated its intention that "schemes are expected to fund the collection, treatment and recycling of batteries". It added that the proposals are to have collection points at each WEEE designated collection facility and other facilities "funded by producers".

WRAP’s forthcoming report into collection systems to support the regulations is expected to recommend a range of different collection options to maximise the UK’s chance of meeting the battery collection targets.

But the government looks set to exempt small retailers from take-back requirements, although the threshold for an exemption is yet to be confirmed. The government said that while there are many small shops selling minimal amounts of batteries, initial analysis suggests that any requirement for a collection service would result in disproportionately high carbon dioxide emissions from transport.

Apart from this exemption the exact nature of the collection infrastructure will be the responsibility of producers, which will have "to ensure that all viable avenues for collecting batteries are explored in order to achieve the collection targets," according to the government’s response.

Despite the ongoing problems over trading between multiple compliance schemes under the WEEE regime (ENDS Report 398, p 22 ), the government has indicated that a similar approach will be employed for the producer responsibility scheme planned for batteries.

Although there was strong support for a single compliance scheme from trade associations representing battery manufactures, reprocessors and local authorities, the government said no overriding preference emerged for any of the options.

It has therefore opted for multiple schemes that would "build on expertise in the UK, provide producers with choice and probably lead to lower costs as a result of competition." It added that it was aware of the risks associated with this option.

It said it would be looking to ensure that the trading of evidence is limited and is not used as the primary means of discharging obligations - a key sticking point that has added layers of complexity and debate in the first year of the fully functioning WEEE regime.

The government will see what mechanisms are required to ensure compliance schemes collect and treat batteries from the whole of the UK. It added that it will also look to clarify responsibilities for WEEE producers who are also battery producers.

It now looks extremely likely that statutory collection targets will be underpinned by a number of interim targets set for each compliance scheme. If these go ahead, compliance schemes that fail to meet interim targets would have their approval reviewed and potentially withdrawn.

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