Consultation to define ‘portable’ batteries


The UK Government has opened a consultation on the definition of ‘portable’ batteries, in relation to its guidance on the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations.

The consultation specifically looks at amending the definition in the Government Guidance Notes, to introduce a single weight threshold of 3 kilograms (kg), so that any battery weighing 3kg or below will be considered to be ‘hand-carriable’.

The Batteries Regulations were introduced in 2009 to implement the EU Batteries Directive, which requires producers that place batteries on the UK market to finance the collection, treatment and recycling of a proportion of the batteries they place on the market.

‘Grey area’

The need for clarification of the ‘grey area’ between ‘portable’ and ‘industrial’ batteries came after the UK surpassed its batteries recycling targets in 2012.

Provisional figures from the Environment Agency’s National Packaging Waste Database showed that the UK recycled 27.7 per cent of portable batteries, surpassing the EU’s 2006 Batteries Directive 2012 target by 2.7 per cent.

But attention was soon drawn to the discrepancies between the 3,043 tonnes of lead-acid batteries that were placed on the market in 2012, and the fact that almost triple that number was collected. In fact, there are grounds to believe that many of the lead-acid batteries that have been collected are in fact ‘industrial’ or ‘automative’ and thus shouldn’t count towards the portable battery recycling figures.

Environmental consultants 360 Environmental voiced scepticism at the figures, with Director Phil Conran saying that they highlight the “farcical nature of the implementation of the Batteries Directive in the UK.”

Currently, when batteries are placed on the market, it is up to the producer to decide whether a battery weighing between 4kg and 10kg was portable or industrial. Subsequently, when batteries are being treated it is up to the treatment operator to make a separate decision.

The consultation document argues that a combination of the lack of clarity in the guidance, and the different interests of producers and treatment operators, ‘may have led to the current anomaly in the collection data’.

As such, views are now being sought on the weight threshold proposals, including whether stakeholders ‘agree the proposed amendment to the guidance is necessary to address the apparent over-collection of portable lead-acid batteries’, as well as comments on the potential impacts of the changes.

Action needed to meet targets

According to the consultation document, ‘many producers are able to comply with the Batteries Regulations using evidence generated by lead-acid battery recycling alone’, which ‘creates a lack of incentive to invest in the collection/recycling of other portable battery types’. 

The proposed change is expected to reduce the UK’s overall portable battery tonnage, and increase the collection of non lead-acid batteries.

The government also warns that ‘if the infrastructure for collecting and recycling other portable batteries is not developed incrementally over the coming years, the UK may be unable to achieve the 2016 EU target of 45 per cent’.

The report adds that ‘a substantial increase in the collection and recycling of other chemistries of portable batteries if the UK and producers are to continue to meet their collection targets’, and estimates that collections would need to ‘more than double to meet the 25 per cent target for 2012’.

It has not yet been decided how long the consultation will be open for.

Read the ‘Consultation on amendments to the Government Guidance Notes on the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009’ here.