Progress on EU battery recycling law

A new law aims to ensure the collection and recycling of all batteries in the EU at the end of their useful life to prevent their incineration and disposal and the consequent environmental and health damage due to the heavy metals they contain.

A conciliation agreement on this new Battery Directive was reached today which includes the possibility of exempting small producers from the obligations to finance the waste management of batteries, a requirement that batteries need to be removable from appliances so they can be recycled as well as a requirement that the battery capacity needs to be indicated on the label for consumer information purposes.

Approximately 800,000 tonnes of automotive batteries, 190,000 tonnes of industrial batteries and 160,000 tonnes of portable (consumer) batteries are placed on the EU market annually. The metals used in batteries include mercury, lead and cadmium, nickel, copper, zinc, manganese and lithium. When incinerated, these metals contribute to air emissions and pollute incineration residues. And when batteries end up in landfills, the metals contribute to the leachate from landfills. Moreover, on a resource management level, batteries are considered a source of secondary raw materials. Thousands of tonnes of metals, including valuable metals such as nickel, cobalt and silver, will be recovered when batteries are recycled.

The European Commissioner for the Environment, Stavros Dimas, welcomed today's progress.

"The EU gives high priority to making sure that batteries and accumulators no longer cause health and environmental problems due to the heavy metals they contain," he said. "Now it is time to start implementing the provisions of the new Battery Directive. The faster we start to collect and recycle batteries, the better for the environment”

The new Directive will set minimum collection targets of 25% and 45% of the average annual sales over the past three years, to be achieved respectively four and eight years after the transposition of the Directive.

The new Directive will also require collected batteries to be recycled. In the conciliation agreement, the European Parliament and the Council agreed on a recycling target of 50% for all batteries not containing cadmium or lead, which the European Parliament initially wanted to increase to 55%.

For cadmium and lead containing batteries there are also specific recycling targets, established at 75% and 65% respectively.

Finally, the new Directive will make producers financially responsible for the waste management of batteries. The European Parliament and the Council agreed upon a de minimis rule, giving Member States the possibility to exempt small producers from their financial responsibilities.

Once adopted the new Battery Directive will replace the existing Battery Directive, passed in 1991.

Today's agreement needs to be formally adopted by the Parliament and Council, after which the new Directive can be published in the Official Journal. Member States will have to transpose it into national law within two years of its adoption. Until then, the existing Battery Directive continues to apply.

FREE EVENT: Pinsent Masons will be running a series of free briefing seminars on other environmental laws, known as WEEE and RoHS, this month in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London. Speakers will explain the legal requirements, problematic areas and offering practical tips.