Batteries Directive

In July 2006, the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers agreed on a compromise to revise the 1991 Directive on batteries and accumulators. The new directive provides for a minimal ban on cadmium and mercury as well as for collecting and recycling targets to be reached by 2016 at the latest.

The EU market for batteries amounts to about 800,000 tonnes of automotive batteries, 190,000 tonnes of industrial batteries and 160,000 tonnes of consumer batteries every year. These batteries contain metals, which might pollute the environment at the end of their life-cycle. Mercury, lead and cadmium are seen as the most dangerous substances.

Three directives have regulated the management of spent batteries up to know (see ScadPlus summary). But their implementation has been impaired by their limited scope, leading to persistent disparities between national systems for collecting and recycling.

Following a public consultation phase (see contributions list) and an extended impact assessment, the Commission tabled a proposal for a new directive in 2003. The proposal aimed to establish minimum targets for the collection and recycling of waste batteries and to place the responsibility on producers to finance the costs associated with it.

Persisting differences between the Council and Parliament in first and second reading meant the proposal had to go through a special conciliation procedure. On 4 July 2006, the European Parliament gave its green light to the compromise that resulted from the talks. Here are the main points of the text:

  • Collection targets: 25% by 2012 and 45 % by 2016. Easily accessible collection points must be made available to consumers by distributors such as supermarkets. 
  • Recycling targets: 65% by average weight for lead-acid batteries and 75% for nickel-cadmium and 50% for others. The suggestion to introduce a so-called closed loop for those hazardous substances was rejected by the Council which argued the 50% recycling target was already ambitious enough. 
  • Landfill: Parliament requests at imposing strict restrictions on the disposal of waste batteries in landfills were only partially met. The compromise states that landfilling is acceptable but only if no end market is available for the hazardous substances cadmium, mercury or lead. 
  • Polluter pays: The costs of consumer information campaigns will be borne by the producers who must register themselves in order to meet this requirement. Distributors will have to take back spent batteries at no cost to the consumer and regardless of when they were placed on the market. They must also inform consumers that they offer a take back service. 
  • Bans: batteries containing more than 0.0005% of mercury and 0.002% of cadmium are prohibited, except for emergency and alarm systems, medical equipment and cordless power tools.
  • Capacity labelling: As of 2009, all batteries must show their real capacity or average life duration. The stated aim is to provide better information to consumers so that they can choose batteries with longer life duration to reduce the amount of waste generated.

Some manufacturers were strongly opposed to the compulsory capacity labelling for batteries used in cars. Eurobat, the association of industrial and automotive battery manufacturers, said it would have favoured labelling on the performance of batteries rather than their capacity. Eurobat believes that performance is a better indicator to consumers as it takes into account the capacity in combination with the discharge rate of batteries - the ability to perform tasks such as starting an engine. "Each type and model of automotive battery has different capacities at different discharge rates," Eurobat said. "The setting of an arbitrary discharge rate used for all batteries would therefore not enable the provision of objective and accurate information to consumers," it added.

Commenting on the vote in Parliament, Swedish MEP Carl Schlyter (Greens) welcomed "the agreement on a general phase-out of cadmium in batteries." But he regretted that cordless power tools received a derogation, pointing out that they account for over two-thirds cadmium battery-use. "Thankfully there will be an opportunity to scrap the derogation when it is reviewed in four years time," he said. On the other hand, he expressed satisfaction with the requirement concerning consumer information. "With the new capacity labelling, consumers will finally be able to compare different batteries on the basis of objective information. This will allow them to make an informed choice and, as such, hopefully put an end to the wild advertising claims of the industry about the performance of their batteries."

The European Portable Battery Association (EPBA),  whose members include the likes of Duracell and Motorola, welcomed the conciliation agreement and especially "the more reasonable collection targets, the requirement for mandatory distributor involvement and the rejection of a lead ban for portable batteries." However, the association expressed concern at the new provisions on the financing and functioning of the collection systems: "we feel greatly exposed by the general requirement for producers to finance public information campaigns which could result in them being presented with costs over which they have no oversight or control and which they cannot finance by themselves anyway." EPBA therefore calls for "appropriate protection" against such exposure by member states at transposition stage. The organisation also criticises the exemption of small producers from the financing scheme, which it considers a violation of "the principle of producer responsibility" that underpins the Directive.

  • Member states have two years to transpose the directive once it is published in the Official Journal (in the course of 2006)

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