Batteries Directive in danger of falling flat
The Batteries Directive, a new EU-wide ruling that imposes strict targets on the manufacturing, collection and recycling of batteries, could be destined to fail before it even begins. This is the view of battery manufacturer Varta, as it fears limited awareness caused by insufficient promotion, over-reliance on consumer awareness and a lack of uniformity around collections could mean that the UK falls short on the stringent collection and recycling targets dictated by the legislation, which came into full effect in the UK on 1 February.
The Batteries Directive aims to reduce the 600 million waste batteries that end up in landfill in the UK each year. From 1 February, all portable batteries – used to power everything from digital cameras to toys – can no longer be thrown away as part of general waste. Instead, consumers must take them to designated collection points, where they will then be sent to be recycled. “As a manufacturer, we welcome the introduction of the Batteries Directive,” said Vince Armitage, Divisional Vice President at Varta Consumer Batteries UK. “However, we have concerns about how it’s going to work in practice. The directive places the responsibility of meeting its stringent collection and recycling targets on the manufacturer, but it relies on the cooperation of consumers and retailers to make it work. However, a lack of promotion means that awareness of the directive amongst these key groups is low. This gives us great concern that, as a nation, we are setting ourselves up to fail before we even begin.”
Currently the UK only recycles three per cent of the 30,000 tonnes of waste batteries that are discarded each year. The new directive dictates that this should rise to 10 per cent by the end of the year – more than treble the current figure. By 2012, the target recycling rate is 25 per cent, and it rises to 45 per cent in 2016.
“Annually, every UK household disposes of an average of 21 batteries as part of its general waste, but at present there are very few kerbside collection schemes planned for end-of-life batteries,” continued Armitage. “This means consumers will have to drive the recycling effort by taking their old batteries to dedicated collection points in retail outlets or municipal sites. Not only is this problematic in itself, if householders don’t even know about the directive and the responsibility they have acquired overnight, then the whole recycling effort will fall down from the outset.”
The collection and recycling costs will be met by the battery manufacturers who estimate that the process will cost around £1,000 per tonne. Therefore, to reach the 10 per cent target set for the end of the year, it will cost £3 million. Should, in time, the UK manage to recycle 100 per cent of its batteries waste then it will cost £30 million per annum. The manufacturers will work with six compliance schemes to make sure batteries are dealt with properly. As part of their role, compliance schemes will also be responsible for publicising the directive, an approach which Varta believes will dilute the recycling message.
“To stand a chance of succeeding, the directive needs uniformity. At present this isn’t the case. Even the colours of the collection bins differ from compliance scheme to compliance scheme,” continued Armitage. “It sounds like a simple thing but this will further confuse the consumer which in turn will reduce the amount of batteries kept out of landfill. Granted, we have a long way to catch-up with countries like Belgium who are already recycling 59 per cent of their batteries waste but if we get the foundations right, then the targets laid out in the directive will be easily achieved,” he concluded.
It’s estimated that around 30,000 tonnes of portable batteries are currently placed on the UK market each year. Despite a recent study by WRAP identifying over 700 different brands of batteries circulating in the UK, four major battery brands represent over 70 per cent of the market, with the remaining 30% of the market made up of own label brands and imported brands.