Darlaston-based G&P Batteries opened the £250,000 plant on its site in West Bromwich. Though capable of recycling 1,500 tonnes per year of alkaline and zinc carbon batteries - the most common household cells - the plant will only recycle 200 tonnes this year due to the low collection levels. It will cost around £800 to recycle each tonne, equivalent to around 3 pence per cell.
The plant uses equipment supplied by French recycling firm Recupyl. Batteries entering are shredded and granulated before passing under magnets and then through sieves.
The process produces three factions: steel, a paper and plastic waste fraction, and a "black mass" made of zinc, manganese and carbon. The company is looking for a UK buyer for this black mass, which can make zinc-manganese compounds.
Recupyl’s process allows the plant to exceed the demands of the proposed Directive as it can recover more than 55% of each battery’s materials. However, it does not have the capacity to meet Britain’s recycling targets under the proposed Directive.
The proposals require Britain to recycle around 160g of "portable" batteries per person per year within four years of the Directive coming into force. This equates to around 10,000 tonnes of household batteries per year.
"The gaps between where we are now, our capacity and the Directive’s targets are huge," said Michael Green, managing director of G&P Batteries. "But we don’t expect a huge rise to occur until the Directive comes into force as people aren’t willing to pay to have them collected and recycled."
Under the draft Directive, producers will have to pay all battery collection and recycling costs.
There has been "little" discussion, however, between companies and Government over how this will work, according to Mr Green. This needs to change soon otherwise the targets will be "very hard" to meet, he adds.
His company, responsible for around 90% of battery collections in Britain, collects household batteries from "a handful" of local authorities, largely from civic amenity sites. It also collects batteries from firms including British Telecom.
The Local Government Association is also calling for improved collection networks. "We need to get collection up and running now if we’re going to have a hope of meeting the targets," says Clare Hudson, policy and public affairs officer. "There’s a lot of demand to do it amongst authorities and consumers, but it needs funding."
The LGA is hoping to trial different types of battery collection - including kerbside, shop- and school-based collection - through a group of local authorities and retailers in the north-west, but it has yet to secure funding.
The Waste and Resources Action Programme is also about to start work on developing markets for recycled batteries thanks to a £4 million grant under the Environment Department’s business resource efficiency and waste programme (see p 17 ).
However, even with that funding, other barriers remain - notably waste management licensing.
Currently, any place that collects waste batteries is required to have a licence. The cost of such licences has prevented the development of collection networks, especially in schools.
Lancashire County Council is the only authority collecting batteries from schools. It is eight months into a year-long trial involving 102 primary schools.
The local authority had to enter "months" of negotiation with the Environment Agency, according to Clare Atkinson, the council’s waste minimisation team leader.