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Context of the assignment

The societal relevance – addressing design, collection and recycling of batteries

Reliable batteries and accumulators are fundamental for the safety of many products, appliances and services and are an essential energy source in our society. At the same time, waste batteries are potentially harmful to the environment, though also a potential source for secondary resources. Waste prevention and better management of waste is one of the top priorities of the EU’s sustainability strategy. The primary objective regarding batteries and accumulators is to minimise the negative impact of batteries and accumulators on the environment, thus contributing to the protection, preservation and improvement of the state of the environment.

In order to protect the environment, waste batteries and accumulators should be collected as a means for avoiding their disposal in the environment. It is desirable for Member States to achieve a high collection and recycling rate for waste batteries and accumulators so as to achieve a high level of environmental protection and material recovery throughout the Community. Due to the wide range of batteries that exist and the varying component metals of which they are made, there are, after sorting the batteries into groups by type, specific recycling processes for each battery type.

The policy response – the Batteries Directive

The Batteries Directive (2006/66/EC) applies to all batteries and accumulators place on the European Union market. Article 1 of the Directive lists the types of provisions established to achieve its objectives.

  1. The Directive sets rules regarding the placing on the market of batteries and accumulators and, in particular, a prohibition on the placing on the market of batteries and accumulators containing hazardous substances. Article 4 of the Directive stipulates prohibitions for the content of cadmium and mercury [1] in batteries placed on the market. In addition, the Directive specifies obligations for producers in relation to labeling.
  2. There are also specific rules for collection, treatment, recycling and disposal of waste batteries and accumulators, promoting a high level of collection and recycling of waste batteries and supplementing relevant Community legislation on waste. Thus, the Directive sets targets for collection in Article 10 and for recycling in Article 12. The collection rates for portable batteries and accumulators are 25% by 26 September 2012, rising to 45% by September 2016.
  3. The Directive also aims to improve the environmental performance of batteries and accumulators and of the activities of all economic operators involved in the life cycle of batteries and accumulators, e.g. producers, distributors and end users and, in particular, those operators directly involved in the treatment and recycling of waste batteries and accumulators.

Achieving these targets requires setting up collection schemes so that end-users can discard all waste portable batteries and accumulators conveniently and free of charge.

The relevance of the assignment

This study will help to understand whether the environmental problems entailed by the production, use and recycling of battereies are duly addressed by the Batteries Directive (2006/66/EC). This study will assess whether specific targets (e.g. the collection rate and the recycling efficiency) have been met.

The results will support the European Commission in evaluation the actual performance of the Batteries Directive compared to initial expectations. The Commission takes a critical look at whether desired changes have been delivered and to what extent the challenges have been effectively met. The outcome of the evaluation will help the Commission assess whether new challenges that might not previously have been appropriately addressed should be taken into consideration.

[1] The exemption to put lead-acid batteries for automotive purposes on the market is driven by the ELV Directive establishing a prohibition to use lead, but giving (time limited) exemptions at the same time.