Commission retreats on NiCd batteries ban

Proposals for a new Directive on batteries were finally published by the European Commission on 25 November.1 Earlier plans for a ban on nickel-cadmium batteries have been dropped. Producers claim that the Directive's central target on recycling is unachievable.

It has taken several years for the Commission to finalise proposals for revising the 1991 batteries Directive. In February, a consultation set out a range of collection and recycling targets, with either mandatory producer responsibility or voluntary agreements to achieve them. It also held open the idea of banning nickel-cadmium batteries where alternatives exist (ENDS Report 338, p 56 ).

The finished proposal contains targets for battery collections, the proportion of collected batteries which must be recycled, and the efficiency of the recycling process. The NiCd ban has been dropped.

  • Collection:
    Member States will be required to ban the disposal of industrial and automotive batteries to landfill or incineration. Producers will need to take back spent industrial and automotive batteries from users.

    For waste portable batteries, Member States would be required to establish facilities and schemes to ensure that they can be returned free of charge. Similar schemes are required under the Directives on end-of-life vehicles and waste electrical and electronic equipment.

    Four years after the Directive's entry into force, spent portable batteries equivalent to 160g per person per year must be collected. This is four or five batteries per person.

    The 160g target includes 80% of the total quantity of spent NiCds in the municipal waste stream. The draft obliges Member States to monitor the quantities of spent portable NiCd batteries in municipal waste and report annually on the results.

    The 160g target equates to around 9,000 tonnes of batteries per annum for the UK. For comparison, an official study three years ago predicted that around 20,500 tonnes of waste primary consumer batteries would arise in 2002 (ENDS Report 342, p 38 ). This suggests that, under the Commission's proposal, the UK would have to recycle at least 40% of its waste batteries.

    The European Portable Battery Association believes the target is unachievable. Instead, it recommends a rate of 110g per capita - corresponding to the average collection rate in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Holland. These countries already collect all battery types.

  • Recycling: All collected industrial and automotive batteries would have to "enter a recycling process". However, up to 10% of collected portable batteries may be diverted from recycling if they are not in a condition fit for processing.

    Member States must ensure that recycling achieves minimum efficiency standards within three years. The percentages of battery weight that must be recycled are:

  • 75% for NiCds, to include all the cadmium.

  • 65% for lead-acid batteries, to include all the lead.

  • 55% for other batteries

    The ban on NiCds was dropped, the Commission says, because "the proposed measures are expected to provide an equivalent level of environmental protection at lower costs."

    Recycling NiCds is energy efficient even in cases where processing facilities are "some distance away", the Commission says, citing a 2002 life-cycle assessment. Recycled cadmium and nickel require significantly less primary energy than is used in extracting and refining the virgin metal.

    The EPBA wants the 55% target to be indicative only so that "highly complex and disproportionately costly" mass balance measurements of recycling in the metals industry are not needed.

    The draft requires Member States to ensure that recycling processes use "the best available treatment and recycling techniques". Governments should also "encourage" treatment facilities to adopt certified environmental management systems.

  • Responsibility and financing:
    The proposal goes some way towards establishing producer responsibility.

    For portable batteries, Member States must ensure that producers "arrange the financing for at least the treatment, recycling and sound disposal of all spent portable batteries and accumulators" - through either individual or collective schemes.

    Similarly, producers of industrial and automotive batteries must "arrange financing" for collection, treatment and recycling. However, Member States must allow producers and users to conclude agreements under which "other financing methods" can be used.

    For industrial batteries placed on the market before the Directive enters into force, the proposal offers Member States further flexibility. Responsibility lies with producers, but where the batteries are replaced by equivalent products the final user may also be "partially or totally responsible" for financing the management of the waste.

    Industrial users would be solely responsible for the costs of managing spent batteries which are not being replaced.

    In the case of new products, Member States must ensure that producers guarantee to finance their disposal - by insurance, a "blocked" bank account, or a guarantee of participation in appropriate schemes. For up to four years after implementation, producers will be allowed to fund recycling schemes through a visible fee on battery sales.

    Member States would be able to rely on voluntary agreements to meet the Directive's requirements on monitoring the waste stream, collection schemes, consumer information and labelling, if the agreements are enforceable and specify objectives with deadlines.

    In July, Environment Minister Elliot Morley revealed that the Government is considering a "voluntary producer responsibility agreement" for consumer battery recycling (ENDS Report 342, p 38 ).

  • Consumer information:
    The proposal requires Member States to ensure that consumers are fully informed of their role in addressing the environmental issues associated with batteries. This will be crucial if batteries are to be segregated from general domestic waste. It also stipulates use of a new label on batteries.

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