Power up for batteries regulation

17 March 2009

Around 700 million batteries, which can contain a number of substances such as cadmium that are harmful to the environment, are sent to landfill sites each year in the UK

That’s the advice from the Environment Agency which claims that several European countries are already recycling batteries in order to protect the environment and resources.

They claim that businesses manufacturing, importing, or selling batteries and battery-operated equipment should start planning now so that they are ready to comply with new regulations aimed at reducing the environmental impact of batteries.

Around 700 million batteries, which can contain a number of substances such as cadmium that are harmful to the environment, are sent to landfill sites each year in the UK; and just 3% of the 30,000 tonnes of portable batteries that are annually sold onto the UK market are recycled. This directive extends further the EU philosophy of ‘the polluter pays’, by making businesses that profit from putting batteries on the UK market responsible for financing separate collection, treatment and recycling of their used batteries.

However, the Batteries Directive sets strict targets and by 2012 a quarter of all end-of-life portable batteries in Britain, some 7500 tonnes, must be recycled rather than discarded. This figure is already being exceeded in several European countries, including Belgium and The Netherlands. Details of the legislation, which is likely to come into force in May with a possible start date for collection of batteries of 1 January 2010, are still being finalised. However, the government’s general approach to turning the EU directive into national law is set out in the consultation documents issued in late 2008.

A large proportion of the electronics and retail sectors, beyond simply the manufacturers of batteries, will have to act. All companies or individuals classified as Producers of portable batteries or accumulators will have to join a Batteries Compliance Scheme (BCS) during the Autumn.

Bob Mead, Batteries Project Manager at the Environment Agency that will regulate battery producers in England and Wales, said: “Some details of how this legislation will be implemented in the UK are currently being consulted on. But, we do know that it will cover all the types of batteries we are familiar with, from AAA cells and mobile phone batteries to the button cells used in hearing aids and watches, and it will impact on lots of firms. Ensuring that portable batteries are correctly disposed of and their component parts, such as their metal casings, are reused is good news for the environment. But, looking after the environment is a shared responsibility and to be a success we need lots of diverse businesses to get involved.”

Under the Government’s new proposals, anyone who places batteries, or products containing batteries, onto the UK market for the first time will be deemed a producer. This includes wholesalers who import them for the UK market. All producers of portable batteries will have to join a Batteries Compliance Scheme (BCS). Compliance scheme operators will arrange collection, treatment and the recycling of used batteries on behalf of their producers from whom they will recover their costs.

Retailers, with the exception of the smallest businesses, will also have to run in-store take-back schemes. The government is currently proposing that exemptions will cover retailers selling less than 16kg of portable batteries a year and/or are not covered by the Sunday Trading Laws.

Further items covered by the regulations are the hidden, and often not easily removed, batteries in novelty items such as greeting cards, clothing and toys that incorporate lights or play music. Batteries built into equipment with a clock or memory function, such as DVD recorders or desktop PCs, are also included. Importantly, in this case, even when the product qualifies as electrical equipment and the producer is registered under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations, they will still need to take action under the batteries regulations.

Producers will have to join a BCS, probably by 15 October this year. BCS operators will arrange for collection, treatment and recycling of used batteries on behalf of Producers, from whom they will recover their costs. It is expected that more than one BCS will be established, so creating an element of competition between them and a choice for Producers.

The environment agencies in the UK will assess and approve suitable BCSs during the Summer. As well as encouraging registration of producers of portable batteries, they will also monitor industry’s compliance with the regulations and, when necessary, take enforcement action.

Most retailers of portable batteries, except very small shops, will have to run in-store takeback schemes, open to the public without charge. These should see retailers collecting all types and brands of portable batteries, regardless of whether they were bought in that shop or not.

There are some actions industry can take now to prepare for the regulations. Individual businesses should be determining whether they are likely to be classified as a Producer, find out what steps they will need to take and start pulling together records on batteries placed onto the UK market this year and last. The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s website hosts the latest guidance on the Directive and the government’s proposals for implementing it in the UK.

Further information, including the regulations and accompanying guidance document, will be available from government in the Spring. Trade associations should also be able to assist their members.

Although the regulations have not yet been finalised, finding out about the Batteries Directive and the government’s proposals now will put a business in the best position to comply, with the minimum of cost and disruption.

Bob Mead added: "Details around the Directive's implementation may change, but the potential benefits for the environment won’t and all producers will need to get ready. Finding out more will ensure your firm is well placed to deal with the new legislation effectively."

Making producers responsible for end-of-life batteries is just one of the measures in the Batteries Directive aimed at reducing the number of batteries going to landfill, and to ensure more of the hazardous chemicals (particularly mercury, cadmium and lead) that some contain are captured for treatment. The other measures include:
• Restrictions of the use of mercury and cadmium in batteries
• Labelling requirements for new batteries to aid consumer choice and encourage recycling
• A partial ban of portable nickel-cadmium batteries, excluding those used in medical equipment, emergency lighting and alarm systems, and cordless power tools. The exemption of power tools will be reviewed after four years
• A ban on the disposal by landfill or incineration of waste industrial and automotive batteries, in effect setting a 100% collection and recycling target for industry
• Establishment of recycling efficiencies to ensure a high proportion of the weight of waste batteries is recycled
• The setting up of waste battery treatment standards

Combined, these actions should help meet the government target of increasing the collection rate, from an estimated 3% of portable batteries in 2007, to the targets in the Directive of 25% by 2012, and 45% in 2016.

Bob Mead is Policy Adviser at The Environment Agency

Image courtesy of Wrap

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