December 13, 2005

EU Lawmakers Dilute Battery Recycling Rules

By Huw Jones

STRASBOURG, France - European Union lawmakers backed member states on Tuesday by agreeing to weaken proposed rules for recycling spent consumer batteries containing dangerous metals.

The European Commission tabled the rules in 2003 to boost battery recycling rates and clamp down on using cadmium and mercury in batteries to stop the toxic metals from seeping into water supplies and polluting the atmosphere.

In a second reading on Tuesday, the European Parliament voted in favor of setting lower targets for collecting batteries than what the Brussels executive had proposed.

The new targets are in line with what member states have agreed among themselves.

Member states now have to decide if they agree with the latest version of the rules from parliament, otherwise a third and final reading or conciliation will begin.

Under the version agreed on Tuesday, EU states will be required to recycle a quarter of all portable batteries within six years of the new rules coming into force, and rising to 45 percent after 10 years.

A portable battery is defined as weighing less than 1 kg.

In 2002, some 158,270 tonnes of portable batteries and accumulators were sold in the then EU of 15 member states.

Lawmakers also agreed to ban all batteries containing more than 0.0005 percent of mercury, and portable batteries with more than 0.002 percent of cadmium.

But a bid by some lawmakers to oppose member states and ban batteries with more than 0.004 percent lead was defeated.

Batteries used in information technology and medical devices will escape the cadmium prohibition.

The assembly also voted to make battery producers pay for the costs of collecting, treating and recycling batteries.

Dutch Euro-deputy Johannes Blokland, who sponsored the bill in parliament, said the rules had to be watered down to cut a deal with member states.

The new directive seeks to better organize the collection, treatment and recycling of waste batteries, and improve on the collection of portable batteries which varied in 2002 from 59 percent in Belgium, to 55 percent in Sweden, 39 percent in Germany, and 16 percent in France.

Exposure to cadmium, most often found as nickel-cadmium in rechargeable batteries, has been linked with kidney and liver diseases.

The Commission had proposed tougher collection targets, seeking to close a loophole where batteries used in vehicles and industry are already recycled but batteries in domestic appliances tend more often to be dumped.