Under the EU Batteries Directive the UK will have to collect 25% of waste portable batteries by 2012. It currently collects just 3%. Stakeholders involved in the battery industry are worried that the UK will not meet its target.
Last week the Government published a response to its December consultation on the directive. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) outlined plans for the implementation of the Batteries Directive and said that it would adopt a multiple producer compliance scheme system like the one used for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).
A number of waste management companies collect batteries in the UK, including G&P Batteries, Veolia Environmental Services, ECT Recycling and Rabbitt Recycling. Rabbitt Recycling chief executive Michael Morris said: Councils need to get their act in gear. The UK has no hope in hell of reaching the EU recycling targets unless the Government puts pressure on councils to make it compulsory for householders to recycle. Only a few authorities collect batteries from kerbside. With new EU targets being set on household and green waste being taken out of the equation councils will need to look at batteries to help reach their targets.
But Defra producer responsibility advisor Ali Scoleri said the onus is on producers to increase batteries recycling: Local authorities have no obligations under the directive. However, producer compliance schemes may choose to enter into contracts with local authorities to use some of their existing collection infrastructure.
Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee waste strategy service manager Nicole Garrett added: This is a producer responsibility legislation and responsibility falls on producers and not on local authorities.
Waste industry estimates suggest between 25,000 and 30,000 batteries are sold each year. Given the current collection rate of 3% this means raising the quantity of portable batteries collected from an estimated 600 tonnes to around 7,500 tonnes to achieve the 2012 collection target. Defra wants to adopt interim targets to ensure the UK remains on track to meet its collection targets.
A Defra spokeswoman said: We do think we can meet this target, and the Government is doing all it can to make that happen. But the target is tough and succeeding will depend on compliance schemes setting up efficient infrastructure for collecting, treating and recycling batteries. Our part is making sure selection criteria for schemes is suitably robust.
But G&P Batteries managing director Michael Green questioned whether the target would be met: My immediate feeling is one of increasing concern that we will not meet the targets. The Government has already said in its response that it will be delaying the implementation this year.
Green is particularly concerned over delays affecting collection targets but says that infrastructure is not a problem although, unlike WEEE producer compliance schemes, firms that want to set up a batteries compliance scheme will have to get approval from the Government. Green said that this will cause another delay.
Opportunities are already slipping away. A campaign needs to be started to educate the public as soon as possible.
But given that batteries are so small, can they make a real difference to recycling rates?
One of the main reasons for collection of batteries being included in the directive was to combat the environmental pollution caused by the metals contained within them. Batteries are only small but there are lot of them that contain polluting metals, Green explained.
They include mercury, cadmium and nickel and we dont want them going to landfill as they currently are. Cadmium and mercury all these materials stay in the body for a very long time and they have a poisoning affect.
There will be long term benefits for many years to come if we can tackle this issue. But we run the risk of not meeting the targets if quick action is not taken.