UK to pull battery recycling rates up to EU standards

Britain will attempt to turn around a poor record on recycling used batteries, with the country's biggest household battery recycling trial to take off in March.

Over 350,000 households across high-rise, rural and urban areas of Britain will be able to include used batteries in their recycling boxes, with information and special containers provided.

“We know that the average household uses about 21 batteries a year and that around 600 million UK household batteries are sent to landfill every year. By making battery recycling simple and easy we hope to encourage people to recycle all their old household batteries rather than throwing them away,” said Chris Davey of the Waste Resources Action Programme, which will be running the trial.

Currently, only between 0.5% and 2% of the UK’s waste batteries are being recycled. The bulk is sent to landfill, where heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury can leak from batteries, polluting the soil and water. Cadmium, for example, bio-accumulates in fish and causes harm to humans and wildlife.

Britain’s record for battery recycling lags behind the rest of Europe, where rates range from 14% in Belgium to 59% in Spain. But the UK will be forced to improve, with the forthcoming EU Battery Directive expected to require of 25% of used batteries to be recycled by 2012.

The new trial, supported by funding from Defra and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is part of a wider drive to meet the EU Battery Directive.

“What we will do is to monitor the amount we’re getting back from the different schemes to assess how we can improve the collection rates and by so doing, work out the most cost effective route for the UK to meet its targets,” WRAP’s Chris Davey told edie.

The main reason why most UK batteries end up on rubbish dumps is that Britain only has one plant capable of recycling household batteries of the most common type, Mr Davey said. This is the G&P Batteries plant in West Bromwich, which opened in March 2005. All other types of battery are sent to Europe for recycling, raising costs.

“The cost of sorting and recycling household (and similar) batteries into the different chemistries and then sending the sorted batteries to recycling plants across Europe is quite high and this is currently seen as one of the main barriers to increased recycling.”

“There is currently little incentive on ‘producers’ who place batteries on the UK market to fund improvements until the targets in the forthcoming EU Batteries Directive are agreed and enshrined in law in the UK,” Mr Davey said.

By Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie