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Taking a united approach to battery recycling



The new EU Battery Directive came into force in October 2008 and is set to change how spent batteries are processed at national level. Some Member States have already been showing the way.

Following in the footsteps of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, the Battery Directive 2006/66/EC aims to reduce the threats posed to human health and the environment by batteries that contain harmful materials. It represents a significant step up from the previous 1991 Directive by making producers and importers fully responsible for the processing of waste batteries.

In 2002, half the portable batteries sold in the EU were sent for final disposal in landfills or were incinerated, instead of being recycled. Approximately 160 000 tonnes of consumer batteries, 190 000 tonnes of industrial batteries and 800 000 tonnes of vehicle batteries are sold in the EU every year, making effective collection, disposal and recycling essential for environmental protection – batteries contain a variety of harmful metals, such as lead, cadmium and mercury, that pose threats to human health and the environment. Improved methods for the collection and recycling of spent batteries will stop such damage to the environment, and have the added benefit of saving energy and natural resources.

The new Directive sets requirements for collection of household batteries of 25% by 2012, rising to 45% by 2016. In addition, by September 2009, all batteries – with some exemptions – must be recycled. Moreover new restrictions have been introduced on the use of certain materials in batteries. Mercury will be proscribed in all batteries, while a similar prohibition has been placed on cadmium in portable batteries. In addition, bans have been established on landfill disposal and incineration of automotive and industrial batteries.

While the introduction of the Battery Directive will no doubt impact on the waste processes of Member States, many have already established successful battery collection programmes. Initiatives that display best practices in this field can be found in a number of European nations.

Sweden a leading light

Sweden has been a leading light in battery recycling for many years, with a history of initiatives in this area that predate even the 1991 Directive. Battery collection initiatives have been run in Sweden since the 1970s. The first nationwide campaign began in 1987 and ran until 1993. It informed citizens about the importance of collecting and recycling batteries containing mercury and cadmium, something heavily emphasised in the new Directive.

The campaign was established by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Swedish Association of Local Authorities, the Swedish Association of Waste Management, SAKAB and Uppsala Energi. This successful campaign prompted the formation firstly of the Foundation for the Collection of Hazardous Batteries (SIMBA), and then in 1997 the Battery Collection Project (BCP).

From 1999, through links with the 290 national municipalities, the BCP ran a massively successful awareness-raising campaign to stop people throwing away batteries as part of household waste. From 2000 onwards, it has regularly organised campaigns and competitions aimed specifically at fifth-grade pupils. Its ‘Hem till holken’ (home to the nesting box) marketing campaign used animated characters to promote the use of battery collection boxes, known as nesting boxes in Sweden, and which received a 70% positive rating from the public. Since 2005, a different campaign is educating three- to five-year olds on the importance of recycling batteries.

Today, battery recycling is going from strength to strength in Sweden. The Swedish EPA holds every municipality responsible for its own battery recycling schemes. Some of these include kerbside pick of batteries, while all provide collection boxes at convenient locations for public access. Any mercury batteries collected must be sent to SAKAB for specialised processing. The cost of this is covered by the Battery Fund, which is funded by charges paid by all importers and producers of mercury batteries. Returbatt AB/ Boliden Bergsoe, a co-operative between the Swedish EPA and various manufacturers, handles the collection and recycling of batteries from retail stores.

Successful pilot scheme in Ireland

Ireland's first public battery collection and recycling programme was launched by prime minister Brian Cowen in June 2008. Ireland is rapidly improving in this area, with 21 million electronic goods recycled since August 2005. The battery-recycling trial was carried out in Tullamore, County Offaly, and was intended to be a pilot for a national implementation.

The scheme was overseen by WEEE Ireland. This non-profit organisation was founded by producers of electrical goods to comply with the legal obligations of the WEEE Directive. Information wallets were distributed to residents, together with deposit bags, and 125 deposit boxes were opened at a variety of locations around the town.

The trial has been deemed a huge success. “There has been a great response by the people of Tullamore to the scheme and the support of retailers, Tullamore Town Council and the Chamber of Commerce has shown what can be achieved in a short space of time,” says WEEE Ireland’s compliance manager, Elizabeth O’Reilly. “The success of the scheme will help us roll out our battery recycling programme around the country from mid-September.”

WEEE Ireland will establish 10 000 waste battery drop-off points in national retail stores in the coming months.

High collection rate achieved in Austria

Austria has one of the most advanced battery recycling systems in the EU. It established a nationwide collection scheme as early as 1992, and was able to achieve a collection rate of 40% even then – a figure many Member States may struggle to reach today. By 2001, this had risen to 60% with regular increases since then.

Battery recycling in Austria is overseen by the independent Umweltforum Batterien (UB). UB was established in 2001 and consists of all of Austria's battery producers and importers. Members must all contribute by way of a charge fee, which then goes into funding collection and recycling programmes.

UB has received significant support from the national government, especially from the Departments of Environment Affairs and Economic Affairs. Its success has been built upon high quality public relations and awareness-raising campaigns, coupled with the development of a comprehensive collection network over the last decade. Nationwide there are 7 000 collection points, and national kerbside pick-up campaigns are conducted every six months.

Real efforts have also been made to engage with children on the topic. In 2003, a national competition was carried-out in which 358 schools participated. The pupils managed to collect no less than 107 tonnes of used batteries.

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