A growing proportion of lead-acid batteries in collection figures has renewed concerns on the impact of a redefinition of what can be counted under obligated schemes.
Compliance schemes believe Environment Agency figures for the first half of the year showing consistent and significant growth for lead-acid battery collection reinforce their argument that changes as to what constitutes a “portable” battery will undermine attempts by the UK to hit its 2016 target (see box, below).
Lead-acid battery collections in the first half of the year amounted to 5,854 tonnes, or over 87% of total batteries collected, up from 80% in the first half of 2012. Lead-acid batteries constituted only 8% of batteries put onto market in the same period.
Phil Conran, director at consultancy 360 Environmental, told MRW: “At the moment the figures show that we are on track to reach 45% target by 2016.
“But the reclassification of portable battery is going to mean that quite a large proportion of the lead-acid batteries that have formed all the portable battery evidence growth won’t be able to be used, making it difficult to reach 2016 recycling targets without significant growth the collection of other batteries.”
It is not feasible to suddenly ramp up collections of other types of portable battery and the costs involved could be quite high
Philip Morton, chief executive, REPIC
Compliance schemes REPIC and Budget Pack told MRW it was difficult to forecast the scale of the impact of any redefinition and a key factor would be the weight threshold figure - Defra suggests 3kg.
“The consequences are unknown but if the amount of lead acid batteries arising in the waste stream is incorrectly defined then the UK will struggle to hit its target,” said Philip Morton, chief executive at REPIC.
Robbie Staniforth, key account specialist at Budget Pack, submitted a proposal for a 5kg target, which wouldl help to remove a so-called “grey area” between 4kg -10kg.
But he is also concerned at an “information mismatch” between producers and recyclers.
“On one side, battery producers know whether they are putting onto the market a battery designed for industrial use, but on the other side reprocessors do not have this information,” he said. “The government proposal does not address this.”
Under the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations, batteries are classified as portable, industrial and automotive. Within each category, batteries are also categorised as lead-acid, nickel cadmium or “other”.
Only portable batteries have collection targets, and their producers must join compliance schemes that are responsible for achieving members’ obligations. Defra set the 2013 level at 30% and will increase it to 45% by 2016.
Defra has recently proposed the introduction of a new definition of portable battery to introduce a weight threshold instead of the current guideline of one that “can be hand-carried by an average person without difficulty”.
The department submitted for public consultation its preference for a 3kg threshold - in effect to encourage recycling of non-lead batteries.
As a result, a significant amount of lead-acid batteries, which have traditionally taken a lion’s share in collection rates given the higher value of their components and relative ease of collection and recycling, could no longer be eligible as evidence for targets.
Compliance schemes also expressed concerns over rising costs for producers. “It is not feasible to suddenly ramp up collections of other types of portable battery and the costs involved could be quite high,” said REPIC’s Morton.
Staniforth warned that producers would mostly suffer from the financial impact of changes to the system, as they would bear the higher costs of collecting batteries from more collection points, and the higher costs of treating and recycling oher than lead acid batteries.
“The value of the lead component in the batteries has traditionally been used to supplement all the other recycling,” he said.
Conran said the cost of obtaining evidence from non-lead-acid batteries was believed to be nearly ten times higher than that from lead-acid batteries.