Resource Use

WasteCare accepts revised battery classification guidance

UK battery recycler WasteCare has welcomed the Environment Agency’s (EA) revised guidance on the classification of portable and industrial batteries, published last week.

Battery MountainAn amended definition of ‘sealed’ batteries has had a significant impact, WasteCare says, as there is now clarity that valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries are considered portable unless the producer has ‘expert evidence’ which convinces the EA to the contrary.

The EA’s classification seeks to better explain the definitions of, and how to classify, battery types including automotive, industrial, portable, battery packs and sealed batteries. 

It also clarifies whether a battery is designed exclusively for industrial or professional use, or if it is a portable battery (one that is sealed, can be carried without difficulty and is neither automotive nor industrial).

Previous ambiguity regarding the classification of batteries – and whether lead acid batteries weighing ‘less than 4kg’ are portable lead acid batteries – has had a negative effect on portable battery recycling rates.

According to WasteCare, a decade of portable lead acid batteries placed on the market has ‘directly impacted the UK’s underlying battery collection rates’. The UK has ‘barely’ recycled 10 per cent of the total non-lead acid portable batteries reported as placed on the market in 2021, the recycler says.

This has had a notable effect on both the environment and financial costs spent to recover fire damage caused by batteries left in electrical appliances.

In a bid to combat the negative impact of incorrectly disposed of batteries, Hounslow Council has launched a campaign to discourage residents from throwing away their batteries. This forms part of a wider national campaign aiming to prevent waste fires.

The initiative follows research from Material Focus’ Stop Battery Fires Campaign, which found that 90 per cent of councils across the country saw battery fires as a growing problem.

Identifying over 600 fires in bin lorries and waste disposal sites, the body also highlighted how 45 per cent of households are unaware of the fire risk batteries pose, with a quarter of households unsafely throwing them away.

Further research by Material Focus found that two vapes are thrown away every second, wasting ‘scarce minerals needed for electric cars’. Despite being covered in plastic, the lithium inside the battery is a key hidden material, becoming a fire hazard when thrown away.

Despite these shortcomings, in May, The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) published results of a global survey on people's attitudes towards technology, sustainability, and precious elements – finding that individuals want more sustainable technology options, yet are frustrated with the lack of information around the topic.

Conducted in 10 countries around the world, the survey asked participants about their purchasing and recycling habits, also gaining an understanding of their attitudes to sustainability in technology.

The survey found that individuals want more sustainable technology options, yet are frustrated with the lack of information on the topic. People were also found to be put off by the lack of straightforward options for recycling their technology, or extending its life span.

Peter Hunt, WasteCare’s Chairman, said: “While many would argue it makes little sense to include any lead batteries within the Waste Battery Regulations as the value of the recovered lead means they are generally recycled anyway, we recognise this would require regulatory change and that would take some time.

“In the absence of new regulations, we welcome the EA’s renewed efforts to level up the playing field for all battery producers. The classification of VRLA batteries, weighing less than 4kg, as portable batteries needed to be clearly defined and must now be consistently enforced by the Agency.

“We strongly believe this will ensure the market works more efficiently and that the increasing reliance of the UK battery producer regime on portable lead-acid batteries to meet the 45 per cent statutory collection targets will be dramatically reduced.

“For too long this imbalance has badly affected the whole battery recycling industry, restricting the growth in collection rates, causing serious environmental damage and representing a huge financial cost for many.

“We look forward to continuing to support lead acid battery producers in meeting their compliance requirements.”