The Association is proud to have lead the initiative of removing mercury from general purpose primary batteries by all main manufacturers in January 1993.
Already in the late 80’s, the battery industry started to reduce the mercury content in the Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon batteries, which represent approx. 90% of the units sold in Europe. The objective of mercury free batteries was achieved in 1993. Since 1993 all battery manufacturers of the European Portable Battery Association have eliminated mercury in the Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon batteries. Thanks to this milestone in battery technology today’s general purpose batteries contain less than 2 ppm mercury on average, which is present as natural background traces within the materials used in batteries.
Due to the long lifetime of Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon batteries of approx. 10 years it was expected that the old mercury containing batteries would appear in the waste stream until 2003/2004.
Since the mid 90’s EPBA has monitored the mercury content in the Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon battery waste stream. The latest so-called stock-pile analysis was undertaken in February 2002 in France. A representative sample of 5000 kg was analyzed with respect to its mercury content and the result shows clearly, that 92 % of the returning batteries are mercury free. Only 8% of the very old batteries produced before 1993 still contained mercury.
That’s a clear success for the first IPP project undertaken by the battery industry. Today 90% of the sold batteries are not harmful to the environment and also over 90% of the returning batteries in the waste stream do not contain any harmful materials.
In 1996 the battery industry realized that battery companies, who were not members of EPBA, supplied the European markets as well and that some of them continued to use mercury in Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon batteries. EPBA asked the European Commission to ban mercury from all batteries except button cells due to technical reasons. Its use is still required. This was achieved in the Technical Adaptation Directive 98/1/01. Member States have been very slow in implementing this adaptation, and this will delay the elimination of mercury contained in batteries from the waste stream in those countries.
The EPBA proposals are an initiative called the “Two Step Plan” which recommends:
- A ban on all batteries containing more than 5ppm of mercury by January 1999. Button cells containing up to 2% by weight of mercury would be exempted from the ban.
- Collection and recycling of all batteries 4 years later from 2003.
The EPBA has invested large sums into the analysis and development of best practices for recycling. Recycling is only worthwhile if it is effective, environmentally sound and economically feasible.
National Battery Associations in Eastern Europe
Following its success in Western Europe, the concept is now underway in CEECs. Encouraging and supporting the creation of national associations in the Central and Eastern European Countries is an important task for EPBA in order to assist the further development of a collection and recycling system for batteries in those countries. These associations already exist through the support of EPBA in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Russia. In 2002 EPBA agreed the creation of a CEE-Regional Collection and Recycling Organisation, which was formed in May 2002. This organisation (REBA, Poland) will ensure a proper collection and recycling of spent batteries following the national legislation in the CEE countries.
The Recent Achievements of the EPBA
- The EPBA has commented on a wide range of battery legislation and its recommendations have been included in national and EU-wide regulations.
- The EPBA also distributes guidelines to its members clarifying legislative issues and advising them on the key points. For example, the EPBA drew up guidelines on Battery Marking in the EU showing the use of the international recycling symbol on sealed Ni-Cd and portable lead batteries.
- EPBA stipulated the automatic sorting of spent batteries in cooperation with engineering and waste management companies. Several automatic and semi-automatic battery sorting facilities are now implemented in the European Market using the knowledge and expertise of EPBA. To enable automatic sorting for Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon batteries, battery manufacturers add voluntarily an invisible UV marking system on the batteries enabling sorting of “mercury free”.
- EPBA is monitoring and working closely with all battery recycling operations in Europe to achieve environmental and economic efficient recycling of batteries. As batteries mainly contain metals such as Iron, Zinc, Manganese, Lead, Nickel, Cadmium, Cobalt and others EPBA advocates to use the existing metal industry recycling infrastructure to bring back the metals into the economic loop.
- Recently, The European Commission proposed legislation which would require the collection and recycling of all portable batteries. In addition, some of the proposals could threaten the continued use of Ni-Cd batteries. While the EPBA supports initiatives which promote the collection and recycling of all batteries, including NiCd batteries, it asks the European Commission to prevent potential market distortions.