Recycling Around Europe

The battery industry has about 12 years experience of collection, sorting and recycling of batteries in several European countries. The following table gives an overview of the collection results. The 2000 collection rates vary between 32% and 54% as a percentage of battery sales in the same year.

A 75% collection target (based on sales of the same year) for all batteries is unachievable. This is proven by EPBA experience in four EU Member States. In order for collection targets to be achievable and measurable, they must be realistic and based on a weight per inhabitant principle.

All schemes are based on national legislation, which is necessary to define the responsibility of each actor in the collection and recycling chain and to leverage the obligation of each company selling batteries.

Collection – Integrated Waste Streams

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study carried out by the Environmental Consultant ERM on behalf on the British Government in November 2000 has confirmed, that the recycling of batteries gives an environmental benefit, especially when using existing material recovery technologies such as steel industry. This is also valid for the recycling of other battery systems such as NiCd, NiMH, Button Cells and Li-Batteries. However, the impacts on the environment of the collection activities due to transport etc out-weigh the benefits resulting from recycling.

In order to benefit the environment the task is therefore to minimise the impact associated with the collection of Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon batteries. This would be possible by integrating the collection of these batteries with other waste streams, such as packaging or WEEE, and separate the materials afterwards for recycling in the steel industry.

The objective is to minimize the collection and transportation impacts while enabling the recycling of spent batteries. Several ideas are under evaluation at this point in time:

  1. Use of existing household waste collection schemes
  2. Use of existing packaging waste collection schemes
  3. Use of schools and administration buildings
  4. Use of newly developed electronic equipment collection schemes

This type of approach does have significant benefit for the environment and the economy:

  • It avoids additional transportation emissions
  • Collection system will capture almost all batteries disposed and we don’t have to fear about low performance of the systems.
  • Recycling can be done in existing facilities with the objective of resource recovery

First examples of “integrated waste management” are seen in several European countries:

  1. In Sweden, battery collection boxes are attached to paper collection containers. The same truck which collects the paper, collects the batteries as well. The same approach is now being tested in Germany and Portugal.
  2. In The Netherlands a project is going on to extract spent batteries from mixed household waste using magnets.
  3. The collection of batteries with electrical appliances is already taking place in those countries where WEEE is established. There would be no merit in asking consumers to separate batteries from appliances. Consumer behaviour It is logical and natural, that the collection results depend mainly on the behaviour of the consumers. As batteries do not occupy much space in the household, people tend to keep the batteries in several places in there homes. Recent consumer studies in Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium show that the large majority of the population knows about the collection systems (80-90%), but only a small part of the population (30-50%) uses the systems in place. It is difficult for industry to influence the habits of consumers. Public entities are better placed to promote an effective collection system and also to help change consumers’ attitudes through effective communication. It is also important that a reasonable period is allowed to achieve any collection target, taking into account the different European attitudes to recycling (certain Member States have effective systems and some do not have a framework in place at all). For primary batteries, a collection target of 50-130 g/inhabitant in all European countries is achievable, depending on the existing infrastructure and collection culture in the Member States. Producers/importers cannot be made responsible for achieving a collection target, which they cannot control, as they have no control over consumer behaviour. The lifetime and consumer behaviour of disposal of portable rechargeable batteries is different from that of portable primary batteries. Approx. 90% of non-industrial replace with portable. Rechargeable batteries are incorporated in electronic equipment and will be collected in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment collection systems. A collection target for non-industrial rechargeable batteries must take into account hoarding and the availability of those batteries for collection.

Recycling of batteries

To recycle batteries they must be sorted beforehand to ensure, that they are separated into the different chemistries with a subsequent recycling and recovery of the metals and other recoverable materials.

Battery Industry has developed in the mid 90s a sorting technology to enable automatic and cost efficient sorting. Several automatic and semi-automatic sorting facilities are now operating in Europe.

To enable automatic sorting technology primary batteries (Alkaline and Zinc Carbon round cells) are coded with an invisible UV colour since 1997. This daily investment into the environmental performance of batteries is the basis for the best sorting and recycling.

Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon Batteriesare reycled in metals industry and to recover steel, zinc, ferromanganese etc
NiCd/NiMH batteriesare recycled to recover the Cadmium and Nickel, with positive market value
Li-Ion batteriesare recycled to recover Cobalt with a positive market value
Lead-Acid Batteriesare recycled in Lead industry with positive market value
Button CellsSilveroxide buttons have a positive market value due to silver containing button cells (Alakline, Zinc-Air) are recycled to recover the mercury

Approximately 70% of the batteries collected are recycled today in an existing recycling market in Europe. This rate will increase over the next years.

The great challenge in Europe is to enable the competition of the recycling industry within the EU internal market for the benefit of the consumers. Still some Member States or local governments try to protect their recycling market by creating technical barriers on the recycling of batteries. According to EU legislation and the intention of the European internal market and to the latest EU Court Decision on recycling (Daimler Chrysler Decision Nov. 2001) industry has the freedom to use any recycling facility around Europe on the basis of the EU competition rules.


The Commission might propose in the text of the revised Battery Directive that industry be entirely responsible for the financing and the organisation of collection. A study of five EPBA member companies shows that based on the above mentioned system and with a fixed collection rate of 75%, the costs of collection would rise up to EURO 5600 per tonne of batteries collected. One direct consequence for the consumer would be an increase in price of 54%.

Market actors (retailer, producer/importer) should have the opportunity to make their cost visible to the end-consumer in the same way as public actors (municipalities) make their cost visible to the citizen by waste taxes.

The EPBA disagrees with a deposit system, because any such system is not economically feasible and is impractical. There are many difficulties linked to the control of the system through the sales outlets and will add huge burden to the trade. Furthermore, it does not act as an incentive to collect batteries due to their long lifetime (3-15 years). Finally, the system is very open to fraudulent use.

Transparency of financing mechanisms is essential and therefore EPBA proposes that if the consumer is expected to pay the financial costs associated with collection, that costs be completely visible to the consumer at the point of sale.

EPBA proposes that a shared responsibility of collection is the most effective system. Austrian and German authorities have already implemented this type of operation successfully and it shows that costs can be reduced to EURO 1300 per tonne of batteries, providing a collection rate of 53%. EPBA wants to underline that legislation based on shared responsibility and with a collection target of between 50-130 g/inhabitant at a total cost target of EURO 1000 per tonne of batteries collected is possible and economically feasible for industry.

European Collection and Recycling Organisations (CRO’s)

Collection and Recycling Organisations

Today we can group the different CRO’s into three major groups:

  1. Systems where industry is responsible for collection, sorting, recycling, awareness programs and high mandatory collection targets. This type of system is characterized by high awareness program costs. In Belgium these are presently 5000 €/t still struggling to aim for an unachievable collection rate of 75% of sales.
  2. Systems with shared responsibility and high mandatory collection targets. In this system, municipalities share the responsibility for collection. But industry is responsible for meeting the collection target resulting in high awareness program costs. In The Netherlands these are presently 3700 €/t. aiming at a collection rate of 90% of batteries discarded, which is also unachievable.
  3. Systems with shared responsibility and no mandatory collection targets. Here, the retailers and municipalities have the financial responsibility for collection from consumers. The awareness programs are part of the public responsibility. In Austria and Germany the costs are around 1300 €/t.
  • In 1989, Austria started the first industry lead collection schemes called UFB, based on a battery directive and an agreement with the municipalities and retailers. Today approximately 160g of batteries per inhabitant are collected which is about 54% of the batteries sold at the same time. The collection scheme is financed via an “environmental fee” charged per battery type to the consumer. Link to UFB Website –

  • In 1995, Belgium started the collection of all batteries with the system called “Bebat”, established by battery industry in Belgium. Today approx. 200 g batteries per inhabitant are collected, which is about 58% of the batteries sold in the same period. The costs are financed via a “environmental fee” per battery, defined by the Ministry of Finance and charged to the consumer. Link to Bebat website –

  • In 1997, Battery Industry achieved an agreement with the Dutch Government for the establishment of a collection scheme called “Stibat”. Today approximately 125g batteries per inhabitant are collected which is about 33% of the batteries sold in the same time. The system is financed via an “environmental fee” charged per battery type to the consumer. Link to Stibat Website –

  • In 1998, the German collection scheme “GRS” started its work based on a battery directive. Today approximately 120g batteries per inhabitant are collected, which is about 33% of the batteries sold in the same period. Battery manufacturers and importers finance the costs. Link to the GRS Website –

  • In 1998, the Swedish Government started the collection of batteries containing lead, cadmium and mercury. Manufacturers and importers of batteries containing these metals must pay an “environmental levy” to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, which finances the collection of batteries. Link to EPA website –

  • In 1999, the Danish Government started the collection of batteries containing lead, cadmium and mercury. Manufacturers and importers of batteries containing these metals must pay an “environmental levy” to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, which finances the collection of batteries. Link to EPA website –

  • In 2001, the French Government implemented a battery directive. Several systems are established in France. Battery Industry has established the “Fibat/Screlec” organisation. In 2001, approximately 600 tonnes of batteries were collected. An increase is expected in 2002. Link to Screlec website –

  • Portugal, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary have established now legislations to collect all batteries. Battery Industry will establish Collection and Recycling Organizations (CROs) in these countries within 2002.