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Two years is too long for Europe to decide

It is not widely known that the European Batteries Directive of 2006, transposed into UK legislation in 2008, contains two sets of targets.

The first is a collection target that stipulates what proportion of (portable) batteries sold need to be collected for recycling. This is well known and well understood and, despite being increasingly challenging, the UK achieved its own targets in 2010, and looks to be on track for 2011.

The second target is less well known. This one sets a goal for the amount of useful material recovered from the batteries when they are recycled, referred to as the Recycling Efficiency.  The directive is quite clear in what it expects: 75% of useful material must be recovered from nickel cadmium batteries; 65% from lead acid batteries; 50% from all other batteries. And these Recycling Efficiencies were supposed to be met from 26 September 2011.

But there is a problem. What the directive does not do is say how the Recycling Efficiency should be calculated, nor which outputs from a process can be counted as being recycled, and which cannot. For more than two years this issue has been considered by a European technical adaptation committee, made up of representatives of member states. They have commissioned technical reports, sought the views of industry, and been lobbied by both producers and recyclers. To date no agreement has been reached.

There is no doubt it is a complicated issue (the European Commission’s consultant’s report that considered a variety of calculation options ran to 236 pages), and there are both legal and metallurgical technicalities involved. I don’t have the space to explain all the ins and outs (and you probably don’t have the will to read them) but, as an example, the discussions have involved topics such as the treatment of slag. Most battery recycling processes are pyrometallurgical in nature, and produce a slag. Does slag count as a useful material? What if it’s put in landfill? But then what if it’s used in road construction? This is just one of a number of similarly esoteric issues that need to be resolved.

Does it matter that there is still no resolution? Well, yes it does, and for two reasons. Firstly there is a legislative clock ticking. We, as an Approved Battery Treatment Operator, were bound by the UK legislation to meet the Recycling Efficiency targets from 26 September 2011. We still have no guidance on how to make the calculation. The UK authorities (and presumably other member states also) are getting around this by promising not to take action against us for not providing the Recycling Efficiency data until the calculation method is agreed in Europe.

The second reason it matters is that we in the UK are without question collecting a lot more batteries as a result of this legislation. Environmentally this has to be a good thing. But people are quite legitimately asking, “So what’s happening to these batteries, now they’re being collected and recycled?” 

Without a consistent method for measuring the standard of recycling processes, we cannot answer this question. This is why the second target in the initial directive was there – so that not only did we make sure the batteries were collected, but also to make sure that they were recycled to an acceptable standard.

I am a big supporter of the batteries legislation, I believe it is necessary, and will provide a great environmental benefit. But the legislators in Europe have to get this final bit of definition resolved, and quickly. Frankly, two years is long enough.

G&P batteries managing director Michael Green

UK Battery Collection Targets

Battery collection targets aim to drive the UK to collect 45% by 2016 – a binding EU target.

The ambitious goal has seen battery collectors work hard to progress from practically no battery collections to probably hitting the 2010 target of 10%. For 2011, the target has almost doubled to 18% and rises to 25% for 2012.

The official 2010 results are still being finalised by the Environment Agency because of wrangling around battery compliance scheme CRR Rebat’s results not being included in data published in March. Industry believes the UK will hit the 2011 target, despite H1 figures showing a slight lag in collection rates.

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