Figures published by the Environment Agency this week indicate that the UK’s portable battery compliance schemes collected a total of 17,811 tonnes of batteries for the year.
This was against a target of 17,540 tonnes for 2018, representing 45% of the average annual volume of batteries placed on the market by producers in the preceding three years.
While the target success for 2018 has been welcomed, having been missed in 2016 and 2017, much of the obligation is being met through the collection of lead acid batteries – many of which are likely to be non-obligated under the portable battery recycling target.
The data indicates that of the 17,811 tonnes collected for recycling, lead acid made up around 9,488 tonnes (around 53%), whilst collections of ‘other’ batteries totalled 7,420 tonnes (41%). Lead acid batteries comprise just 3.5% of the obligated household batteries placed onto the market.
The disparity in collection rates is thought to stem from a difference in interpretation between battery recyclers and producers over which lead acid batteries are classified as being ‘portable’ or ‘industrial’ at the beginning and end of life. This has lead to a greater volume of lead acid batteries being collected for recycling than producers are obligated to finance.
Portable batteries are the only category to which a recycling target has been attached – and previously battery recyclers had claimed that as they are often unaware of the original use of some lead acid batteries, it is impossible to determine if they fall into the industrial or portable classification.
Despite a change in classification of portable batteries in 2016 based on weight, the latest figures suggest that there has been no great shift in the volume of lead acid batteries being counted towards recycling targets, with some in the sector suggesting that this masks an ‘underperformance’ in relation to the target.
Commenting on the data, David Reynolds of the compliance scheme Batteryback, said: “Lead acid evidence is still too high, compared to lead acid placed on the market. Through stakeholders meetings we have been working with Defra and the agencies to resolve that and to try and achieve the objectives of the battery regulations.
“We have put a paper to Defra summarising some of the things that might be a part of the solution and one of them is having chemistry specific targets or being more creative with the chemistry. At the moment chemistry is just reported but it does not have a value. Defra could restrict the amount of lead allowed.
“Lead acid evidence is still too high, compared to lead acid placed on the market. Through stakeholders meetings we have been working with Defra and the agencies to resolve that and to try and achieve the objectives of the battery regulations.”
“Batteryback has been working with Duracell to try and engage school children to collect more batteries. In the last six months we have had over 1 million school children involved in that.”
Quarter 1 2019
Further data published for the first quarter of 2019 suggests that the trend regarding lead acid has continued, with 2,532 tonnes of lead acid batteries collected, compared to 1,631 of ‘other’ chemistries.
Robbie Staniforth, head of policy at the compliance scheme Ecosurety, said: “Collections of portable other batteries are the highest ever for a first quarter in the year. While we hope this continues, the reality is that disparity between how producers and recyclers report continues to muddy the water. We have made recommendations to government for how this could be addressed in future to turbo-charge the collection of mixed household batteries.
“There is widespread container provision across the UK but the information provided to the average citizen is still patchy. Similar to packaging and WEEE, we believe a co-ordinated industry-wide approach is required to harmonise communications.”