UK still not collecting enough waste batteries, according to latest figures

Provisional figures, published by the Environment Agency on 28 February, highlight the UK’s failure meet its 45% collection target for household batteries in 2017 – a shortfall of 0.12%.

For the second year in a row, the UK battery recycling industry has missed the target by a small margin. When comparing the figures against last year, there were two fundamental questions that came up which make for a good starting point to look at the 2017 data.

1. Is the fact that small producers are only required to report really to blame?

Those companies placing under one tonne of batteries on the market are classed as a small producer, and are only required to report the weight of batteries they place onto the market to the Environment Agency. They are not required to finance the collection of waste batteries until they reach an annual threshold of one tonne, by which point they are considered a large battery producer, also meaning they must join a battery compliance scheme.

In 2017, there were 582 producers registered with five compliance schemes, accounting for 99.15% of the reported batteries placed on the UK market for 2017. The scheme-led producers were all compliant, however the small producers that make up the 0.85% remaining percentage bring the final collection result down from 45% to 44.88% - just short of the target.

With the current reporting structure set up, there is a direct correlation between the weight of batteries placed on the market by producers in battery compliance schemes and those batteries collected. The same cannot be said for the rest of the batteries reported by small producers.

Could it be that with small tweaks in the regulation we can create continuity between the responsibility of large and small producers?

2. Are the battery chemistries being collected in proportion to what is placed on the market?

Since its inception, the battery regulations have separated household batteries into three chemistry types: Lead Acid, Nickle-cadmium and Other. There are nuances of the three types, but one important differentiator.

If you visit an Approved Battery Treatment Operator with one tonne of Nickle-Cadmium or Other chemistry types you can expect to be writing them a hefty cheque; if you have a tonne of Lead Acid batteries however, you can expect to take home change in your pocket.

Lead Acid portable batteries accounted for 1,717 of the 39,3486 tonnes of batteries placed on the market in 2017, accounting for 4%. Yet of the total 17,427 tonnes of batteries actually collected for recycling, Lead Acid accounted for 9,427 tonnes or 55% of the total. A huge disparity.

95% of the batteries placed on the market are Nickle-cadmium at 1% and Other at 94%, the most costly batteries to process. It is a stark fact that five times more lead acid batteries were collected than placed on the market. 

Immediate remedial action required

Robbie Staniforth, policy manager at Ecosurety commented "It is extremely disappointing that the UK has for the second year running missed the battery recycling target. The small producer exemption, which has always existed, means no-one is responsible for recycling these batteries. Until this issue is resolved, the UK will continue to miss the targets set. 

There was a fairly even mix of household versus non-household batteries collected last year, which is a step in the right direction, however, these figures still mean that, overall, battery recycling in the UK is in decline, which is concerning. As a scheme, Ecosurety recycled more mixed household batteries than the average (49% compared with the industry average of 40%). This could well be due to the #BringBackHeavyMetal campaign of 2017, which involved a number of high-profile partners and retailers.  

Consumer-facing campaigns to increase recycling can make a difference, and we are working to open up the campaign to more producers next year. However, as an industry, the question of what to do with small producer batteries is becoming acute and requires immediate remedial action from Defra. It is no longer cost effective for the bigger schemes to pick up this small, but vital shortfall."

What’s next?

The Environment Agency finalise their figures later in the year, and 2018’s collection target will be released in the coming months. Ecosurety have an exciting year planned with the return of our battery recycling campaign created with Hubbub, #BringBackHeavyMetal.

If you would like to know how your organisation can support #BringBackHeavyMetal in 2018 please contact us to find out more.

Dan Boyle

Key account manager

Dan joined our client services team in early 2017 and as key account manager now provides high levels of support to our compliance scheme members. His previous experience includes working for Apple as a technical expert and for IT advisory firm Gartner – it goes without saying that Dan has a love of all things tech!

Written by Dan Boyle Published 01/03/2018 Topics Batteries

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