France catches up on battery recycling

Conseil d'Etat to draw up decree requiring separate collection of batteries containing mercury

Under threat of legal action from the European Commission, France is to require collection and recycling of used batteries containing significant levels of mercury. A decree being drawn up by the Conseil d'Etat will require consumers to return used "button" batteries to retailers, who will have to send them to specialist treatment centres.

The decree is intended to implement a 1991 EU directive on batteries containing dangerous substances. Batteries containing more than 0.025% mercury, 0.025% mercury or 0.4% lead, as well as individual batteries containing more than 25 mg of mercury, will be covered by the decree. Alkaline manganese batteries containing more than 0.025% mercury will be banned. For other batteries, collection and recycling will be required.

Environment minister Corinne Lepage foreshadowed the new decree in January in a circular sent to all prefects of départements. Work on the decree by the Conseil d'Etat began this week. It will be completed within three months, according to an environment ministry spokesman. Last August, the European Commission threatened legal action over continued non-transposition of the directive, which should have been implemented by September 1992.

Several environmental and other interest groups have strongly criticised the decree as too little, too late. Génération Ecologie, a political party, describes the measure as "late, insufficient and impossible to implement". Spokesman Arnaud Lemoine told ENDS Daily that all batteries should be covered, not just the 10% with higher mercury levels. He said that no mechanism to achieve collection had been proposed.

The ministry openly acknowledges that about 90% of batteries sold to consumers will not be covered by the decree, as they are not covered by the directive. However, in her January circular, Ms Lepage noted that batteries contribute nearly 20% of the zinc found in municipal waste, and suggested that local government organisations should "encourage" their separate collection for treatment or recycling.

Follow Up:
Ministère de l'Environnement , tel: +33 1 42 19 20 21; Génération Ecologie, tel: +33 1 45 03 82 82.

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