Full power required for battery recycling

It will take more than a new directive to significantly reduce the 600 million waste batteries that end up in landfill each year, argues Vince Armitage.

The batteries directive states that all portable batteries – used to power everything from digital cameras to toys – can no longer be thrown away as part of general waste. Instead, consumers must take them to designated collection points, from where they will be sent to be recycled. Currently, the UK only recycles 3% of the 30,000 tonnes of waste batteries that are discarded each year, while Belgium currently recycles 59%.

The new directive dictates that for the UK, this should rise to 10% by the end of the year – more than treble the current figure. By 2012, the target recycling rate is 25%, rising to 45% in 2016, so there is a long, but very necessary way to go.

The directive places the responsibility of meeting its stringent collection and recycling targets on the manufacturer, but relies on the co-operation of consumers and retailers alike to make it work. The important word here is consumers.

It is consumers that are being left to drive the recycling effort by taking their old batteries to collection points in retail outlets or municipal sites.

Putting the word out

Therefore awareness, or the current lack of awareness, is the first challenge that lies ahead for the directive. Simply put, if those who need to be recycling batteries don’t know they should be, then they won’t. The majority of consumer education has been left to the producers and compliance schemes, which has left the industry baffled.

Without the Govern-ment leading the communication, how can we expect to reach the consumer with a clear and consistent message, advising them of the role they need to play and whether the nation is on track to achieve its targets?

We should be learning from the breakdown of communication around the WEEE directive, but still the Government will not be funding and coordinating an ongoing national campaign to educate the end-user about the batteries directive.

Instead a short campaign was executed around the initial launch of the directive. Clearly, without a concerted awareness campaign, the whole recycling effort will fail. Then all the work put in by government, manufacturers, compliance schemes and retailers to prepare for the directive could be for nothing.

Moving forward, all stakeholders need to work together to ensure there is a highly visible and consistent message in front of the consumer. If all parties could contribute, then it would keep the costs of communication down.

Moral role for councils

Under the directive, local authorities are not obligated to help drive the recycling process, but from a moral point of view there is a role to be played. Councils are pushing to increase household recycling efforts when it comes to paper, cardboard and plastic – so why should batteries be any different? Householders need to be educated on the directive in the same way that they are for recycling other forms of household waste. Councils are ideally placed to offer this support to communities.

The problem of communication is made all the more difficult due to the competing compliance scheme structure – there are currently six in place. This brings a dilution of the messages that reach the end-user as each compliance scheme will have its own smaller PR and marketing campaigns – ultimately competing against each other for air time and column inches and failing to have the same impact as one universal campaign.

Another challenge is the issue of waste battery collection. Retailers are already playing their part by housing collection bins in store, but for the directive to reach its targets recycling collections need to be more consistent and readily available across communities.

From a consumer point of view, any method implemented needs to make recycling as easy as possible. It is evident that many households are confused and turned-off by household recycling schemes, but education and support around the process has led to a greater take-up.

Calls for a standardised approach

The directive needs uniformity. Indeed, even the colours of the collection bins differ from compliance scheme to compliance scheme, which just further confuses consumers. Many also fear that due to the competing compliance scheme structure that is in place, schemes focus on the areas that offer the most profit, such as large urban areas, while remotely and sparsely populated areas are more likely to be neglected.

Local authorities are in a prime position to support householders to recycle waste batteries simply and effectively.

I understand kerbside collections are costly, but there are other ways to support the community and point people in the direction of local collection points. Housing a collection bin in a central local authority building and providing leaflets to educate households are two ways this could be achieved.

In the UK, there is a good vibe towards recycling at the moment. All those involved with the batteries directive, including local authorities, should harness this positivity to make the directive work and make our communities greener by reducing the impact batteries presently have on landfill.

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