Battery Take-Back Legislation: EU Speciality or Worldwide Principle of Waste Management?

Ofira Varga, Senior Consultant
1WEEE Services GmbH

Do you remember the good old days, when government and, in particular, municipalities assumed overall responsibility for waste management? Unfortunately, from a producer’s perspective they are gone in many regions and countries. In 2006, the EU published the Directive 2006/66/EU on batteries and accumulators and introduced take-back obligations for battery producers.
This new approach is based on the “IPP – Integrated Product Policy” of the European Union. In 2001, the EU published a respective Green Paper1. One of the principles of IPP was to take away from governments the responsibility for the following streams of waste by putting the burden of waste management onto the shoulders of the producer: packaging, cars, electrical and electronic equipment and batteries2.

Waste Management Legislation Worldwide

The concept of this so-called extended producer responsibility (EPR) was already enunciated in a report of the Swedish Ministry of the Environment, published in 1990. In this report, EPR was defined as following3: “Extended producer responsibility is an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact from a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life – cycle of the product and especially for the take–back, recycling and final disposal of the product.”

EU Approach for Waste Management – An Example For Many Countries
Today more and more governments of both industrialized and developing countries are introducing similar pieces of legislation. The map shows that waste management based on EPR has become a worldwide principle.

Important Elements of EU Battery Legislation
As the EU battery legislation is the most mature piece of legislation existing today, it is important for producers to understand the guiding principles of this legislation as a key to the legislative patchwork around the globe.

Extended Producer Responsibility: Who is concerned by the scope of the EU Battery Directive?
In order to answer the question who has an obligation to take back old batteries, a closer look on the respective definitions in the legislation is necessary. Two aspects have to be considered:
1.  What is the general definition of a producer under a legislation implementing EPR?
2.  How does the EU Battery Directive define the  producer of batteries?

1. General Definition of a Producer Under EPR
According to the “Guide on the implementation of directives based on the New Approach and the Global Approach”4,  which intends to contribute to a harmonised practical implementation of EU directives, the responsibility for finished products, ready-made parts or components lies with the manufacturer. The manufacturer being regarded the person who is responsible for designing and manufacturing a product for the purpose of placing it on the market on his own behalf.5

In addition the importer who introduces products to the market may be considered the person responsible for the placing on the market and therefore may be held liable6. However, these are just basic guidelines and particularities such as potential responsibilities of installers, assemblers and authorized representatives may have to be considered as well.

2. EU Battery Directive: Producer Definition
The EU Battery Directive considers the responsible producer any person in an EU member state, irrespective of the selling technique, including by means of distance communication, placing batteries or accumulators including those incorporated into appliances or vehicles, on the market for the first time in a member state on a professional basis.

Different Types of Batteries Under EU Legislation
It is important for a producer to understand the different types of batteries defined by law, because take-back and recycling of the various types of batteries is organized differently. Battery take-back schemes such as the German GRS Battery Foundation are taking back portable batteries only. For automotive batteries and industrial batteries, there are other ways of take-back and recycling.

The following different types of batteries are distinguished by the EU Battery Directive:
•  Portable batteries are batteries that are sealed and that the average person could carry by hand without difficulty. These are used in standard household appliances and can be removed from the appliance by the consumer.
•  Industrial batteries are batteries that are designed exclusively for industrial, commercial or agricultural purposes or for the propulsion of vehicles with an electric drive. In particular, these include batteries for ensuring uninterrupted power supply and for medical equipment.
•  Automotive batteries are batteries that are used for powering the lighting, ignition or starter in vehicles that are not exclusively electrically driven. The term automotive battery also covers batteries that perform one of these functions in hybrid vehicles. It does not include batteries for the propulsion of vehicles that are electrically driven only or batteries for electric propulsion of hybrid vehicles. The term  “vehicles” here means only non-rail, land vehicles.

Battery Take-Back: Information Obligations and a Lot of Bureaucracy
The obligation to take-back batteries requires comprehensive administrative tasks and information duties. Among the most important are:
•  Financing the collection of “end of life” batteries, and the conveyance to environmentally sound reuse, recovery, recycle.
•  Setting up an individual take-back and collection system or joining a collective system (product stewardship program collective producer compliance scheme)
•  Achieving (individually or collectively) a given collection rate

•  Reporting of “put on the market (sales)” data and collection volumes
•  Registration with a regulatory body
•  Providing information to customers with regard to disposal opportunities (e.g. on packaging, instruction booklet, website)
•  Labeling of batteries to prevent improper disposal
•  Substance restrictions
•  Testing requirements

No Harmonized Legislation in EU Member States
It might be a surprise for producers outside the EU that the member states didn’t transpose the battery directive uniformly into their jurisdiction. From a legislator’s perspective battery take-back has to be integrated into the existing local waste management infrastructure. And of course, EU member states had organized waste management differently in the past.

EU Battery Directive Compared to Other Battery Legislation: Same Principle, But Differences in Implementation
The countries shown in the map above in this article apply the principles and elements of the EU battery legislation as explained before. However, a comparison between EU Battery Directive and other waste battery legislations in the world reveals some important differences that have to be considered.

British Columbia: Limited Product Scope
Most producers are concerned by differences in either the personal or the product scope or in the practical implementation of the legislation. For instance, the product scope of the EU Battery Directive and therefore of the local transposition laws cover basically all batteries. Contrary to the EU, in the Canadian province British Columbia, the scope of the stewardship regulation is limited to lead-acid batteries weighing more than 2 kg. In addition to this, the stewardship regulation for waste electrical and electronic equipment covers batteries incorporated into products included in phase 1 to 5 (scope limited to certain electrical and electronic equipment) under the e-waste stewardship program.

UK and Brazil: Peculiarities in Practical Implementation
Furthermore, after having identified relevant responsibilities, local peculiarities regarding the practical implementation of the respective waste battery legislation have to be taken into account. In UK for example, producers of portable batteries have to join a collective producer compliance scheme to fulfil their obligations under the local waste battery regulation (unless they place less than 1 ton of batteries on the market which requires registration with the responsible authority only). In Brazil on the other hand, responsible producers are required to register with the authority and to submit a so called waste management plan that outlines, amongst other things, the collection infrastructure and recycling facilities established.

A Sustainable Compliance Strategy is Needed
When operating internationally, producers have to understand battery take-back legislation of all their markets. Information about these pieces of legislation must be made available to all organizations of the company which are involved in compliance, such as R&D, distribution, legal department and controlling.
In addition to monitoring and analysis of all relevant legislations, producers have to develop a sustainable compliance strategy. The following questions need an answer:
•  Do the necessary resources, expertise and experience for assuming responsibility for compliance with battery take-back legislation exist?
•  Who is going to take care of ongoing improvement of compliance in particular in terms of cost reduction?
•  Is the company in the position to use compliance as a competitive advantage on the market?
A sustainable compliance strategy should include the cooperation of the different organizations in a company involved in compliance, first of all in case legal obligations for technical features exist and a change of product design might be required.
Furthermore, the differences in national battery legislations have to be managed. In this context, the following questions need a satisfying response:
•  Which labeling has to be chosen?
•  How to deal with capacity labeling?
•  Which end-user information has to be compiled?
•  How to assure removability of portable batteries?
For those who are dealing with battery legislations for many years, it is no surprise that there are new challenges arriving. Apparently battery take-back schemes are struggling with transportation and storage of old lithium batteries. A short circuit of batteries which are not completely empty can cause fire and explosions. Does the solution come from battery R&D or from take-back logistics? The discussion is not over yet.

1 Eu Commission, “Green Paper on Integrated Product Policy”, February 7, 2011
2  EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste of December 20, 1994;  EU Directive on End-of-Life Vehicles of September 18, 2000, EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment of January 27, 2003; EU Directive on Batteries and Accumulators and Waste Batteries and  Accumulators of September 6, 2006
3  Thomas Lindhqvist & Karl Lidgren, “Models for Extended Producer Responsibility”, October 26, 1990, published by the Ministry of the Environment in “From the Cradle to the Grave — six studies of the environmental impact of products,” DC 1991:0.
4  European Commission, “Guide on the implementation of directives  based on the New Approach and the Global Approach”, 2000,
5  Ibid, pg. 21
6  Ibid, pg. 23

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