Leading companies in the waste management sector have called on EU lawmakers to revise a draft regulation on sustainable batteries to increase the target for used battery collection and to make it mandatory for battery producers to use recycled content in their production cycles.
As it stands, the draft regulation sets the target of collecting 65% of used portable batteries, such as those found in mobile phones and laptops, by 2025, rising to 70% by 2030, a significant increase from the current rate of 45%. The regulation also aims for more than 90% of electric vehicle batteries to be recovered.
But this does not go far enough, says FEAD, a body representing around 3,000 European waste management companies that wants that goal increased to at least 80% in line with efforts to move towards a more circular economy, reducing waste.
“We want to invest and if the targets are not ambitious enough, I think we will not see all the investment that is possible,” FEAD president Peter Kurth told an event on Monday (22 March).
“If we see that there is an ambitious target, starting with the collection and ending with the mandatory recycling of content, we will invite companies all over Europe to fully take the opportunities to invest and to do their part for a better circular economy,” he added.
The association is also calling for the EU to ensure that batteries produced in Europe include high levels of recycled content.
Ralf Mittermayr, CEO of Austrian waste company Saubermacher Dienstleistungs, recommended collection rates increase to more than 90% and argued for a deposit refund scheme similar to that used for glass and plastics in many European countries.
“We should aim to collect as much [e-waste] as possible – we should at least be on par with plastics,” he said.
Mittermayr told the online event that proper collection was a way to mitigate against the fire risk posed by mishandled lithium batteries.
This position was supported by the FEAD president, who called on European legislators to “introduce an EU-wide duty on deposit return schemes for dangerous lithium batteries.”
A complex proposal
Jose Rizo Martin, a senior expert in the EU Commission’s environment directorate, explained the thinking behind what he called a “complex” proposal. He defended the inclusion of a 70% collection target, saying anything higher might be rejected as unrealistic.
“Once you discount the amount of batteries that have been exported, once you have discounted the amount of batteries lost, then you can say that 70% to 75% are the entirety of batteries that are available for collection at the end of their life,” he said.
Martin reminded recycling industry representatives that while they may be pushing for higher targets, member states may see the targets as too ambitious. In the end the solution would probably be a “balanced position,” he said.
At a recent Council debate, EU countries criticised the draft regulation for increasing the burden on producers and public authorities and said the time frames were unrealistic.
Martin also warned that an EU-wide deposit and return scheme could become overly bureaucratic, increasing red tape for minimal gains.
The EU executive’s decision to opt for a regulation rather than a directive, which means the targets would apply immediately across all EU countries, is to ensure clarity across the bloc and to create a level playing field, explained Martin.
“One of the problems at present is due to the lack of full harmonisation. People have different understandings of what their obligations are,” he said. “In the format of a regulation, all member states, all recyclers, would be subject to the same conditions”.
Recycling industry stakeholders called for manufacturers to engage in greater dialogue with their industry to ensure that batteries can be easily extracted from products.
“We need to have a separate collection in situations where the batteries cannot be separated from the products,” said Alessandro Danesi, commercial director of Italian recycling company S.E.Val, adding that current practices posed a major barrier to recycling.
Danesi also wants to see the EU oblige producers to colour-code different types of batteries, allowing them to be immediately identified and processed.
“What is worrying me is that the mandatory recovery rate is put on the recyclers’ shoulders. This is a misunderstanding … These mandatory recycling rate must be monitored and put on the [producers’] shoulders,” he said.
Speakers at the event also encouraged the EU to consider ways to improve consumer knowledge about recycling and to make the process of returning batteries more efficient.
“Consumer education works to a certain point, but one important thing regarding consumers returning waste for recovery is that it needs to be easy,” said Janne Koivisto, public affairs manager with the Finnish recycling company Fortum.
“If it takes too much effort for consumers, it won’t work,” he added.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]