Cadmium industry in last charge on battery ban

Industry proposes refined voluntary recycling offer to head off Ni-Cd ban lined up for autumn

The battery industry is making a last stand to try to dissuade the European Commission from proposing a ban on rechargeable batteries made of nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd). A coalition of industry groups – representing the views of cadmium suppliers, battery manufacturers and recycling companies – will forward a detailed draft voluntary agreement on recycling to high-level Commission officials in the coming weeks.

The industry wants the chance to set up an EU-wide used battery collection scheme that would ensure the recycling of 75% of Ni-Cd batteries by around 2004. The Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) does not believe the target is attainable and would prefer to ban all batteries containing cadmium by 2008.

The draft ban is contained in a DGXI proposal to extend a 1991 EU directive on battery waste, which would also require countries to ensure 75% of consumer and 95% of industrial batteries are recycled (ENDS Daily 7 July 1997). Both the cadmium ban and the recycling targets have still to be agreed by the other Commission services – many of which are more favourable to industry's point of view.

Industry first mooted the idea of a voluntary agreement last autumn and, following discussions with Commission officials in July, will present a refined version of its proposal this month. The timing is crucial as the draft directive is likely to be one of the first environmental dossiers to be discussed by the new commissioners when they start work in September.

A DGXI official told ENDS Daily that he would be asking colleagues to support the proposed ban, rather than accept industry's voluntary offer. He claimed that evidence from ongoing research at the University of Stockholm showed that alternatives to the rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries were technologically and economically feasible. Although nickel metal hydride batteries were currently 20-100% more expensive than Ni-Cd ones, they were set to drop in price dramatically in the next two years, he said.

Raymond Semples, executive directive of the International Cadmium Association (ICA), disputed this claim. He said that for most applications, and particularly high-power tools, Ni-Cd batteries were the only viable option. "We don't say that in 20 years time there won't be other technologies, but we don't see why there should be legislation to push manufacturers if there is no viable substitute."

Another industry argument is that it should be given a chance to prove it can make a voluntary commitment work within four years. ICA points out that if it does not achieve this, cadmium could still be banned in time for the 2008 deadline proposed by DGXI.

Follow Up:
International Cadmium Association, tel: +32 2 777 0560.

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