European Community Directive 2006/66/EC on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators sets annual recycling targets for EU members. The UK's 2016 annual recycling target is 45 percent of portable batteries placed on the market between 2014 and 2016 (calculated by weight).
Batteries are classified as either portable, industrial or automotive. A portable battery is any battery or battery pack which is sealed and can be hand-carried by an average natural person without difficulty. The recycling targets are geared towards collection and recycling of "everyday use" batteries (for example, AA and AAA batteries).
The UK Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009 (Regulations) provide the regulatory regime for ensuring the UK's target is met.
Companies placing batteries (including those in appliances or vehicles) on the market in the UK in quantities greater than one tonne are subject to producer responsibility recycling obligations.
Companies meet their collection and recycling obligations via membership of a compliance scheme (in a similar fashion to those which operate as regards packaging waste and waste electrical and electronic equipment).
Since 2010, there has been significant growth in the amount of portable batteries collected for recycling. Indeed, 2012 saw the UK exceed its annual target. This sounds like a good result, however, a "glitch" in collection and recycling data came to light relatively recently.
It seems that there has been confusion over the categories of battery (portable/automotive/industrial) at both ends of the supply chain - that is, when placing on the market and at collection/reprocessing. Part of this problem is the collection of mixed-category lead-acid batteries to meet portable battery compliance obligations. Lead-acid batteries cost less to recover than other portable batteries. In 2012 and 2013, the tonnage of portable lead acid batteries collected for recycling greatly exceeded the declared tonnage being placed on the UK market.
To address the situation, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced (after consultation) the introduction of a weight threshold of 4kg into the definition of "portable battery" in government guidance. Only batteries weighing 4kg or less can now be classed as portable. Previously batteries weighing between 4kg and 10kg could be "portable or "hand-carriable". As a result, compliance schemes must now collect and recycle higher quantities of non-lead batteries. However, this may make it more difficult and expensive to achieve collection and recycling targets prescribed by the EU Directive.
During the DEFRA consultation, estimates of the increase in costs of collection and recycling ranged from an average of £1250 per tonne to £2000 per tonne. It remains to be seen what the actual increase in compliance costs will be.