EU battery sector scraps over recycling

Manufacturers, specialist recyclers, dispute way forward for proposed EU collection targets

European battery makers and specialist recyclers are fighting to win the European Commission's ear over plans to require collection and recycling of non-rechargeable batteries across the EU. The dispute emerged after a conference on battery recycling organised by the European Portable Battery Association (EPBA) last week.

Manufacturers are calling on the Commission to delay current plans to set ambitious targets effective from 2004. They argue that time is needed for a recent ban on mercury in most consumer batteries to feed through the market (ENDS Daily 22 October 1998). After this, batteries could be processed by metals producers as non-hazardous waste, they say.

According to the EPBA, the cost-saving of delaying targets would be huge. General metals recycling costs around euros 100-300 per tonne, it says, while specialist recyclers equipped to handle toxic metals charge in the region of euros 1,000 per tonne. The EPBA further claims that concerns over toxic emissions from direct metals recycling have been allayed, making it the most sustainable solution to battery waste.

However, specialist battery recyclers are challenging the EPBA's proposal and want the proposed 2004 recycling targets maintained. The European Battery Recyclers' Association (EBRA) says it would take at least six years longer than the EPBA claims for mercury to disappear from targeted batteries. The association's Emmanuel Beaurepaire told ENDS Daily that its members' ability to handle traces of mercury in metals would be needed to meet EU recycling targets.

EPBA spokesperson Rachel Barlow disagreed with the suggestion, insisting that "all waste batteries will be mercury-free." She conceded that "hoarding" by consumers could cause problems, but said that sorting systems already developed would prevent them entering recycling processes.

Plans to require EU-wide recycling of consumer batteries emerged three years ago (ENDS Daily 7 July 1997) but have still to be formally proposed by the Commission. Its environment directorate is currently suggesting a requirement for 75% of domestic and 95% of industrial non-rechargeable batteries to be collected by 2004 and for 55% of all batteries to be recycled.

Formal proposal of a draft directive revising the existing 1991 law is being held up by a row over related proposals to ban nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries (ENDS Daily 15 December 1999) as well as by uncertainty over long-delayed Commission plans to issue a directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment. A Commission source told ENDS Daily today that a formal proposal for a new batteries directive would not emerge before the autumn.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; EPBA, tel: +32 2 774 9602; EBRA, tel: +33 1 53 45 84 84.

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