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Author: Valerie Flynn
Date: 20th of April 2016

By September this year, EU countries must be collecting and recycling 45% of the batteries sold on their markets, with producers such as Duracell and Energizer footing the bill.

The target is the result of an EU law signed a decade ago in an effort to deal with the toxic problem of waste batteries.

Here we explain why the target is important and how likely it is to be met.

Why are batteries a problem?
Chemicals from batteries which are incinerated or go to landfill may pollute lakes and streams, vaporise into the air, or leach into groundwater, exposing the environment to highly corrosive acids and bases, warned an EU impact assessment produced when the legislation was first proposed.

Is there business sense in recycling batteries?
Recycling standard portable batteries such as the AA alkaline batteries powering a torch or a toy can yield a wealth of secondary materials such as iron, zinc and ferromanganese. However, no one has figured out a way to make this recycling profitable.

Unlike recyclers of other waste streams, those of alkaline and lithium ion batteries cannot extract more value from their feedstock than it costs them to process it. That’s why the EU has forced battery manufacturers to pay for their products’ waste footprint.

As well as stemming the flow of batteries to incinerators and landfill, the directive has forced manufacturers to cut their use of the most toxic battery ingredients, such as mercury and cadmium. In the UK, an estimated 37,000 tonnes of batteries were sold in 2014, each tonne costing £1,150 to collect and process safely. On this basis, in the UK alone the rules are likely to cost battery companies around £19m.

Are we on track to reach the 45%goal?
At least 14 of the 28 EU member states are expected to miss the target, according to the European Portable Batteries Association (EPBA). Some countries, including Belgium, Sweden and Denmark, have already exceeded the 45% goal, EPBA says. But others, including Romania, Estonia and Portugal, are below 30%. Those falling somewhere in the middle include the UK, Italy and France.

Why are some countries doing so much better?
Success depends on consumers handing in their waste batteries for recycling, so consumer awareness is crucial. In countries doing better, more is being spent on TV and radio advertising and programmes involving schools, says Alain Vassart, general secretary of the European Battery Recycling Association.

In Belgium, for example, almost a quarter of batteries are collected from schools. Belgium’s battery collection organisation, Bebat, runs a programme that enables schools to collect points for each kilogramme of batteries collected. These points can be exchanged for prizes such as sports equipment and entry to museums.

In the Netherlands, consumers who return 10 batteries to be recycled at local collection points in supermarkets and other stores are entered into a nationwide monthly draw for €1,000 (£801) travel vouchers and other cash prizes.

How can businesses go beyond 45%?
Even if the 45% target was to be met by all countries, that’s still more than half of waste batteries being dumped, incinerated or sitting in household drawers.

Robbie Staniforth, commercial manager of Ecosurety, which manages UK compliance with the Batteries Directive for Lidl, Poundland and Dixons, believes one way forward could be to make it easier for consumers to recycle batteries by incorporating the service into kerbside household waste collection. Ecosurety is piloting this idea with a local authority in south-west England.

For Vassart, another solution is for manufacturers and recyclers to collaborate on researching and developing more recyclable batteries. At present, batteries are made out of virgin materials and manufacturers’ research and development investment is concentrated on improving performance, cutting production costs and unit weight, and phasing out the most hazardous ingredients.

Energizer, however, has recently brought to market a battery which contains 10% recycled active material. The EcoAdvanced battery took several years to develop and will require more work to keep improving it, says spokesman Pascal Franchet.

Read article at The Guardian