UK needs battery recycling plant, says Timms

Domestic recycling capacity for portable batteries will be needed to ensure that the UK meets the recycling targets set out in the proposed EU Directive on batteries, Industry Minister Stephen Timms told MPs during a recent House of Commons debate. Collection and recycling targets any higher than those proposed would be "unacceptable".

The proposed Directive was issued last November. Its key provisions include a collection target for spent portable batteries of 160 grams per head of population per year to be met four years after the Directive's entry into force - likely to be 2007 - plus a requirement for 80% of nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries to be collected.

Other requirements include a ban on incineration and landfilling of industrial and automotive batteries, minimum recycling efficiencies for collected batteries of different types, and rules for the financing of collection and recycling.

Tougher provisions, including an effective ban on NiCd batteries, were adopted during the European Parliament's first reading of the Directive in April (ENDS Report 351, p 54 ) - but these may be whittled down during future negotiations with the Council of Ministers.

In 2002, some 125 tonnes of consumer batteries were collected in the UK, equating to a collection rate of just 1%.

According to a regulatory impact assessment issued by the Department of Trade and Industry in March, the Government is considering a variety of ways of collecting batteries, including in-store take-back and bring systems (ENDS Report 350, pp 54-55 ).

The first indications of the Government's stance on the proposals and the steps it is taking to prepare for them came during a Standing Committee debate on 28 April.

"Success with the objectives of the Directive would require new investment in capacity in the UK," said Mr Timms. The DTI "is talking to a company about establishing a recycling plant [for consumer batteries], and a request has been made for European funding to support it....Once some 400 or 500 tonnes of batteries are available for recycling, it is likely that companies will find it economically attractive to set up such a plant."

Mr Timms said the collection and recycling targets proposed in the Directive would be challenging for the UK, and targets any higher - such as those adopted by the European Parliament - would be "unacceptable".

He also expressed "serious reservations" about the practicality of the requirement to monitor the quantity of spent NiCds in the municipal waste stream. Given that so few NiCds enter it, "there would have to be a huge sampling base for the exercise to have any value."

As with the collection of appliances under the Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), the DTI is "seeking to set in place a light-touch and simple licensing regime for collection methods such as in-store take-back and the use of civic amenity sites.

Meanwhile, a consultation paper on the batteries Directive appeared on the DTI's website in May.1The paper gives few clues about the Government's intentions, instead simply summarising the key provisions of the Directive and asking for comments on how best to implement them.

Interestingly, however, it asks whether there are any grounds why the UK should be allowed to take advantage of the provision that allows Member States to request an extension of the deadline for achieving the collection targets of up to 36 months.

It also asks whether the proposed ban on incineration or landfilling of automotive and industrial batteries would cause "significant problems".

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