New EU legislation requiring the collection and recycling of spent batteries
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Revised EU legislation that aims to protect human health and the environment by ensuring waste batteries are properly collected and recycled has now come into force. The directive also makes producers responsible for the management of batteries once they become waste. Adopted by the European Parliament and Council in 2006, the revised Batteries Directive should now be transposed by Member States into national law. So far seven Member States have communicated to the Commission national legislation which fully transposes the directive.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The revision of the Batteries Directive represents another important step towards our goal of making Europe into a recycling society. By setting collection targets and requiring recycling, this legislation will also help to protect the health of European citizens and contribute to making consumption and production in the EU more sustainable. Those Member States that have not yet transposed it should do so without delay.”
Environmental and health issues
Batteries contain a range of metals which are harmful to human health and the environment, including in some cases the hazardous heavy metals lead, cadmium and mercury. Collecting and recycling waste batteries prevents these substances from getting into the environment and saves energy and natural resources.
The new directive revises an existing directive on batteries from 1991 which has not succeeded in controlling adequately the risks they pose or creating a homogeneous framework for their collection and recycling. For example, almost one in two ‘portable’ batteries (small, sealed batteries, as opposed to industrial or automotive batteries) sold in the EU-15 in 2002 was sent for final disposal in landfill dumps or incinerators instead of being recycled after use. This was the case even for batteries that had been collected separately at the end of their useful life.
The revised directive
The revised directive aims to avoid the final disposal of batteries in the environment by enhancing collection and recycling. It also contains restrictions on the use of some heavy metals. The key changes it introduces are:
requirements governing the collection or take-back of all types of batteries and setting national collection targets for portable batteries. These require the collection of at least 25% of the portable batteries used annually in each Member State by 2012, rising to 45% by 2016.
a requirement that all batteries collected must be recycled (with possible exemptions for portable hazardous batteries). restrictions on the use of mercury in all batteries and on the use of cadmium in portable batteries.
a ban on the landfilling or incineration of automotive and industrial batteries.
a requirement that recycling processes for different types of batteries must meet specified efficiency levels.
a requirement that, in line with the principle of producer responsibility, battery producers have to finance the costs of the collection, treatment and recycling of waste batteries.
The introduction of the recycling efficiency levels is a novelty in EU waste legislation. These efficiency targets will encourage innovation and the introduction of more effective processes and technologies. They form part of the Lead Market Initiative launched by the Commission at the start of this year.
The Commission has clarified that batteries lawfully placed on the Community market before today do not have to be withdrawn from sale or relabelled in line with the new requirements.
To date seven Member States have communicated to the Commission national legislation fully transposing the directive and a further four have partially transposed it. As guardian of the Treaty, the Commission will start immediately to assess whether these national laws correctly transpose the aims of the directive. The Commission will take any necessary infringement action against Member States which have not communicated their transposition measures if they do not remedy the situation rapidly.