Industry calls for battery levy to prop up recycling

A consortium of industry groups in the lead-acid vehicle battery chain has called for a compulsory levy on batteries to ensure that the present high level of recycling does not go into a threatened decline. The move is a response to the Government's proposals for implementing the EC Directive on batteries.

Plans to comply with the EC Directive on the recovery and recycling of batteries were circulated by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in May (ENDS Report 220, pp 31-32 ). The proposals were non-specific and put forward several options. After receiving written responses, the DTI is about to hold further discussions with interested parties.

The lead-acid battery chain, including producers, distributers, scrap merchants, and lead smelters represented by the Lead Development Association has put forward a joint submission for vehicle batteries. The existing network collects 85-90% of the 9.3 million batteries discarded annually, mainly through scrap metal dealers who obtain batteries from garages, retailers, car dismantlers and waste disposal sites.

However, the collection chain is in "serious danger" of collapse, the group warns. Lead prices are low and smelters have cut the price they pay for scrap. Scrap merchants are also facing additional costs in the form of waste management licence fees and in complying with the "duty of care". Indeed, many dealers "see no possibility of making a profit from scrap battery collection and are ceasing to handle spent batteries."

In addition, secondary lead smelters are being forced to subsidise the price paid for scrap batteries to ensure continuity of supply, and are being propped up by their parent companies. An "injection of additional funding" is essential if collection and recovery rates are to be maintained, the consortium argues.

A compulsory levy on replacement batteries, applied at the first point of sale, has been proposed by the group. The consortium has opted for a compulsory system after noting the failure of voluntary measures for used tyres.

The levy would ultimately be applied to all new batteries, but doing this from the outset would be complex and delay implementation. An initial fee of around o2 per battery is being discussed, although this would be adjusted with changes in the economics of battery recycling.

The funds would be used mainly to subsidise the price of scrap batteries, but also for research into improved recovery techniques, a publicity campaign and administration.

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