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Europe Back to Square One on Battery Recycling

Published by MAC on 2003-02-27

Europe Back to Square One on Battery Recycling

Brussels, Belgium (ENS)

February 27, 2003

The European Commission's Environment Directorate has announced a fresh consultation on plans to draft a comprehensive law on battery waste collection and recycling. It is to be among the first legislative proposals to pass through an "extended impact assessment" under the Commission's better regulation initiative, the department said.

The move represents a return to the drawing board for the Commission, and effectively erases a draft law presented by the Environment Directorate in October 2001. Progress on the draft stalled due to differences within the Commission over the treatment of nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cad) rechargeable batteries.

The new consultation paper is brief. It asks for stakeholders input by the end of April on the positive and negative aspects of three key issues - collection targets, recycling targets and cadmium. For each topic, three or four options are on the table.

Three target ranges are proposed for battery collection rates - 30-40 percent or 60-70 percent or 70-80 percent. Car batteries would have a separate target of anywhere from 70 percent to 100 percent.

Three proposed target ranges for battery recycling rates range from 45-55 percent at the lower end 65-75 percent at the higher. Car battery recycling targets are slightly higher still.

In addition, the directorate is seeking views on introducing producer responsibility for spent batteries, with free take-back along the lines of the newly minted law governing waste electrical and electronic equipment.

Finally, the paper sets out several possibilities for regulating Ni-Cad rechargeable batteries. The options include separate collection and recycling targets ranging between 60-90 percent and 50-80 percent respectively, and a ban on cadmium where commercially viable substitutes are available.

There might also be a separate cadmium recovery target if Ni-Cads are not banned.

Long term exposure to high levels of cadmium can lead to permanent kidney damage. Those most at risk are people who may already have kidney problems, such as people with diabetes, and the elderly.

Rachel Barlow of the European Portable Battery Association welcomed what she called the Commission's "positive and constructive move." It "should ensure a better balance between the three pillars of sustainable development" than the Commission's earlier approach on batteries, she said.

Roberto Ferrigno of the European Environmental Bureau, a nongovernmental network representing 130 NGOs from 24 countries, said the new consultation was "good news," as it would take the debate out from "behind closed doors."

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