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30th November 2012

Clarification necessary on lead acid battery definitions


As 2012 draws to a close, the UK looks on target to achieve its 25% portable waste battery collection rate.  But behind that rosy outlook there is a need for caution, as close examination of the figures highlights a need to change some important definitions about what is a ‘portable’ battery.

The great achievement in portable battery collection the UK has made so far in 2012 is based largely on the reporting of portable lead acid batteries – which account for more than 80% of the batteries collected, when they only represent 10% of the portable batteries put on the market.  Remarkably, the portable lead acid battery collection rate is running at something like 300% this year! Clearly something is wrong here.

Lead acid batteries in general have had a fantastically high collection rate for many years, due to the commercial value they can attract, and so the portable lead acid batteries now being reported were already being collected before these regulations came in, and it was recognised by the UK government when transposing the regulations back in 2008 that lead acid battery collections did not need much attention, as they were so effective already.

Alarmingly, when you take the portable lead acid batteries out of the collection data published by the EA, there is a strong possibility that in 2012 the UK will recycle fewer portable batteries of the Nicad and other chemistries than were recycled in 2008 – a year before the regulations were introduced!   By this measure, the UK has gone backwards in recycling those batteries that the regulations were designed to increase, and has maintained its already good record in recycling lead acid batteries.

It is clear that the regulations are not achieving their aim of increasing battery recycling, and this is a worrying and potentially embarrassing situation for the UK.   We urgently need a definition that both the waste industry and the producers can apply.