Size matters

Written by: Graham Margetson | Published:

Graham Margetson, CEO of Lorax Compliance, explains why delays in battery recycling will keep it a charged issue.

Consultants from the European Portable Battery Association (EPBA) are predicting that almost all EU states, including the UK, will struggle to meet the 2016 portable battery recycling target of 45% under the EU Batteries Directive.

An earlier report from EPBA recommended post-collection sorting of household waste to increase collection rates as an alternative to raising consumer awareness in countries where collection rates are low.

However, this hasn't been implemented by the government, presumably for reasons of costs. Consequently, responsibility continues to lie solely at the manufacturers' and retailers' doors.

However, the government has not made meeting the collection target easy for producers or retailers by taking so long to clarify exactly how EU responsibility rules apply to UK battery producers and recyclers - nor has it produced guidelines clear enough to work with. Defra opened a consultation addressing the definition of portable batteries in August 2013 to update its guidance on the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009; the legislation introduced to implement the EU Batteries Directive. However, the consultation was withdrawn because it contained inaccurate data and was finally relaunched last month.

In its consultation, Defra is looking to provide clarity on what constitutes a 'portable' battery in order to reduce the current over-reliance on heavy lead acid batteries to meet its targets, which some argue should be classed as 'industrial' rather than 'portable'. Additionally, lead acid batteries only accounted for 8% of those placed on the market in 2012, but comprised 83% of the total number recycled.

The government proposes removing the 'grey area' present in the current legislation which classifies anything weighing less than four kilograms (kg) as portable, while batteries weighing between four and 10kg can be classed as portable at the collector's discretion.

It proposes updating the legislation through the introduction of a single weight threshold of 4kg for portable batteries to reduce the number of lead acid batteries that are obligated to be counted towards the recycling target.

This has raised some industry concern of the effect a new definition may have on fulfilling future targets.

It also fails to tackle the central element of what must be a Europe-wide issue. Studies from Belgium and the Netherlands indicate that at least 40% of batteries placed on the market do not become available for collection. The reduction of red tape in a heavily regulated industry is always welcome news, but in terms of meeting our EU deadline, with much remaining to be clarified, it's certainly getting very close for comfort.

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