UK: "Producer Responsibility" For Batteries Is Arriving In The UK

Last Updated: 18 February 2009
Article by Aidan Thomson

EC law has been introduced in recent years to tackle growing streams of waste, for example waste electrical and electronic equipment, end-of-life vehicles and packaging waste.  

The laws dealing with these waste streams share common themes. Among other things, they place the lion's share of the responsibility for dealing with the waste stream on the original producers of the products and materials that are being disposed of rather than on the end users actually throwing the products and materials away. The term used for this is "producer responsibility". In particular, the laws place obligations on producers in respect of the labelling and content of their products and materials and in respect of waste management and recycling once the products and materials reach the end of their lives.

The Batteries Directive

More recently, the EU has turned its attention to another problematic waste stream, namely waste batteries. 

The Batteries and Accumulators and Waste Batteries and Accumulators Directive 2006/66/EC (the "Batteries Directive") introduced a number of requirements aimed at controlling the battery waste stream.  The Batteries Directive:

  • restricts the use of mercury and cadmium in batteries;
  • requires labelling for new batteries to aid consumer choice and recycling;
  • sets waste battery collection rates;
  • prohibits disposal by landfill or incineration for some battery types;
  • enshrines the principle of "producer responsibility"; and
  • sets waste battery recycling efficiencies and treatment standards.

Implementation Of The Batteries Directive In The UK To Date

The UK Government has already taken steps to implement the requirements of the Directive into UK law relating to content and labelling. On 26 September 2008, the Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2008 came into force. 

These apply in principle to all types of battery and accumulator, including rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries, battery packs, button cells (commonly used in small portable equipment like watches), portable batteries (for example batteries that fit into toys, games, torches etc.) automotive batteries and industrial batteries.  They also apply to the appliances into which batteries are, or may be, incorporated.

They prevent persons from "placing on the market":

  • batteries containing cadmium and mercury above certain percentages by weight;
  • batteries that are not clearly marked with a crossed out wheeled bin symbol;
  • batteries containing lead, mercury or cadmium that are not clearly labelled as such; and
  • appliances into which a battery may be incorporated unless that appliance is designed so that the battery can be readily removed from the appliance and accompanied by appropriate instructions and information relating to the battery for the use of the end user.

"Placing on the market" means supplying or making available, for payment or free of charge, to a third party in the European Economic Area.  Importers into the EC are considered to be placing on the market, possibly even where they import the relevant goods for their own use.

Future Implementation Steps In The UK

The other aspects of the implementation of the Batteries Directive in the UK have not yet been formalised.  However, the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform ("BERR")  took a significant step forward when, on 22 December 2008, it published a consultation paper on the further implementation of the Batteries Directive in the UK, in particular the implementation of "producer responsibility". 

The consultation proposes the introduction of the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009.  They are included in draft within the consultation documents.

The draft Regulations apply in the main to battery "producers", defined as "any person in the UK that, irrespective of the selling techniques used, ...places batteries or accumulators, including those incorporated into appliances or vehicles, on the UK market for the first time on a professional basis."  The term encompasses in particular:

  • UK battery manufacturers; and
  • those who import batteries (either on their own or contained within appliances or vehicles) into the UK for business purposes, possibly including those who import for own use.

The draft Regulations apply differently depending upon whether the waste batteries or accumulators are "automotive", "portable" or "industrial".  This is to reflect key differences between the different types. In particular, in contrast with automotive and industrial batteries, portable batteries are currently recycled very rarely indeed. There is no developed portable battery waste management and recycling system. 

Portable Batteries And Accumulators

These are defined as batteries and accumulators which are sealed, can be hand-carried without difficulty, and are neither "industrial" nor "automotive" in nature.  They include the wide variety of types of battery commonly used in toys, games, cameras, watches, torches, radios, smoke alarms and so on.

Under the draft Regulations, a producer of portable batteries is responsible for financing the collection, treatment and recycling of a quantity of waste portable batteries during each calendar year "compliance period" during which it places portable batteries on the UK market.  The first compliance period will run from January to December 2010. 

The precise quantity of waste portable batteries for which the producer is responsible in each compliance period depends upon the quantities of new batteries that it is placing on the market annually and the Government's "target percentage" which corresponds with requirements set out in the Batteries Directive. 

To fulfil their responsibilities, producers of portable batteries must join a "Battery Compliance Scheme" ("BCS"). A BCS is a government-approved body responsible for ensuring the collection, treatment and recycling of portable batteries.  Anyone can set up a BCS, provided that they satisfy the strict approval process.  Using detailed sales data information supplied by their members and a detailed publicity and collection network, BCSs calculate and fulfil their members' responsibilities.  Each BCS's activities are financed by contributions from its producer members.

The rules are relaxed for producers placing less than three tonnes of portable batteries per year on the UK market. Whilst such producers will have to register with a BCS, the draft Regulations exempt them from having to contribute to the BCS so as to finance the costs of collection, treatment and recycling. 

A final point to note about the draft Regulations is that they require large distributors of portable batteries (i.e. distributors with a floor space of more than 280m2 and selling more than 16kg of portable batteries per year) to take back waste portable batteries free of charge.  They must advertise this in their stores. Distributors can contact any BCS to arrange collection of any waste batteries taken back.

Automotive And Industrial Batteries

An "automotive battery" is one which is used for starting a vehicle engine or for powering any lighting used in a vehicle.  An "industrial battery" is one which is: designed exclusively for industrial or professional uses; used as a source of power for propulsion in an electric vehicle; unsealed, but is not an automotive battery; or sealed, but is not defined as a portable battery.

Collection and recycling of automotive and industrial batteries in the UK has traditionally been very good.  The draft Regulations, therefore, aim to maintain the status quo, but introduce a producer responsibility "safety net".  They provide that:

  • producers of industrial batteries must take back waste batteries free of charge from an end user on request in the following situations:
    1. where the producer is also supplying new industrial batteries to that end user;
    2. where the end user is not able to return waste industrial batteries to another producer (because it is not being supplied with any new ones) and the waste batteries are of the same chemistry as the new         batteries which the producer is, or has recently been, placing on the market; and
    3. where an end user is not entitled to dispose of the battery via any other producer via 1 or 2 above.
  • producers of automotive batteries must take back automotive batteries free of charge on request from final holders, such as garages and scrap yards;
  • each producer of industrial or automotive batteries has to publish details of how end users and final holders can request collection by that producer;
  • industrial and automotive battery producers must ensure that the waste batteries that they collect or take back are treated or recycled either at an approved UK treatment facility or overseas via an approved exporter; and 
  • producers of automotive and industrial batteries do not have to join a BCS.  However, they do have to register with BERR. In each compliance period, they must report the total tonnage and other details of batteries they placed on the market, and the total tonnage collected or taken back for treatment and recycling. 

The consultation on the draft Regulations ends on 13 February 2009.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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