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EP second reading recommendation on Battery Directive

Publication date: 13 December 2005

Thousands of tonnes of waste batteries and accumulators are being discarded each year polluting the environment even when they contain hazardous substances like mercury, lead or cadmium. This is the reason the EU is preparing new legislation. The European Parliament adopted its second reading recommendation in which it strengthens several requirements.


The rapporteur,  Johannes Blokland spoke in favour of a ban on cadmium, lead and mercury, with a transitional period for cadmium batteries used in cordless power tools and exemptions for some specific uses of lead batteries.  He recognised that, in order to reach an agreement with the Council, he would have to weaken his proposals expressed by Parliament in first reading in particular to make life easier for users of industrial batteries and accumulators.  He also pleaded for the substitution principle concerning portable cadmium batteries since alternatives have existed for nearly ten years. 

Controversial targets
The new directive also seeks to better organise the collection, treatment and recycling of waste batteries and accumulators.  The current collection rates vary considerably between Member States.  Statistics on collection of portable batteries in 2002 for some countries show variable efficiency: Belgium 59%, Sweden 55%, Austria 44%, Germany 39%, Netherlands 32%, France 16% for example.

The plenary debate went in very different ways even among the political groups.  For instance, Caroline JACKSON (UK) criticised the collection targets adopted by the Environment Committee: "Let us be frank about this. Austria has achieved 40% collection after 14 years.  The report now calls for higher EU targets: 40% after 6 years and 60 % after 10 years. These targets are unrealistic."  Holger KRAHMER (DE) used the same words on behalf of his group, as did Linda McAVAN (UK): "In fact only a handful of countries collect batteries at all. We need to get targets down to a level that countries can meet", she said.

On the other hand Erna HENNICOT-SCHOEPGES (LU) mentioned that her country, Luxembourg, succeeds in recycling 89.5% of waste from batteries: "I don't understand why what is possible in Luxembourg should be impossible in other countries." Marie-Noëlle LIENEMANN (FR) pleaded for the substitution principle and for a ban on cadmium "as requested by the European Parliament since 1988". "If alternatives do exist for portable batteries as well as for industrial ones, we have to prohibit cadmium", she added. Showing two different cordless drills and a plank into which he had driven screws, Carl SCHLYTER insisted on the need to indicate the actual capacity of batteries to the consumer since one of the drills worked twice as long as the other one.

Collection: 25 % after 6 years, 45 % after 10 years
Even if Member States are required to "take the necessary measures" to maximise the separate collection of waste batteries and accumulators and to achieve "maximum recycling", Parliament did not change the collection targets proposed in the Council's common position: 25 % of portable batteries after 6 years and 45 % after 10 years.  For the European Parliament, distributors should be obliged to take back spent portable batteries from end-users at no charge.  The directive authorises Member States to use economic instruments to promote the collection of waste batteries and accumulators or the use of less pollutants ones.  But MEPs insist on the respect of internal market rules and on the need for consultation with all the parties concerned.

Limited prohibitions
The Council's common position only incorporates EP amendments prohibiting all batteries and accumulators including more than 0.0005 % of mercury and portable batteries containing more than 0.002 % of cadmium.  A number of amendments were re-tabled namely in order to prohibit batteries and accumulators including more than 0,004% of lead but they did not reach the required qualified majority.

An amendment stipulates that batteries and accumulators cannot be incorporated in appliances unless they can be readily removed, when spent, by the consumer. However some appliances escape this prohibition (some applications in information technology, medical devices,...)

Treatment and recycling
MEPs adopted an amendment which defines minimum recycling efficiencies: 65 % of lead-acid batteries and accumulators and 75 % for nickel-cadmium, with closed loop for all the lead and the cadmium; 55 % for other waste batteries and accumulators (instead of 50 % in the Council's common position). Those minimum recycling efficiencies are to be evaluated regularly and adapted to the best available technology. 

Parliament considers that producers should finance any net costs arising from collection, treatment and recycling, including costs arising from a public information campaign. The responsibility for meeting the costs of collection, treatment, recycling and disposal of "historic waste" (for batteries placed on the market before the entry into force of this new Directive) shall lie with producers.  MEPs also deleted the principle of "de minimis rules for small producers" in order to avoid producers, even small producers, to escape their responsibilities.

Information and labelling
MEPs take the view that distributors should inform end-users about the possibility of discarding waste portable batteries and accumulators at their sales points.  Mr Schlyter succeeded in convincing a majority of Members about drills: the capacity of batteries should be indicated on them in a visible, legible and indelible form, in order to encourage informed choice by the consumer.

Next step:
It is now up to the Council whether or not to agree with all these amendments. If agreement is not reached, a conciliation procedure will be opened.  The directive shall enter into force on the day of its publication in the Official Journal and Member States are requested to transpose it two years after into national law.


Related News Item:
- Council agrees on ban on cadmium in batteries (20 December 2004)

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