published in: Environment Daily 1611, 17 Feb 2004
The European parliament's rapporteur is campaigning to revive the idea of an EU ban on nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries under a revision of the EU's battery waste directive. The plan was dropped by the European Commission following a long stand-off between the environment and industry directorates.
In a series of amendments put to the parliament's environment committee this week, Dutch Calvinist Hans Blokland also proposes a raft of other changes to tighten up the law, including higher waste collection rates and greater producer responsibility.
Mr Blokland says it would be "absurd" for the EU to ban heavy metals in electrical equipment through the WEEE directive while permitting them in the batteries that power appliances. He is proposing a general ban on cadmium, mercury and lead in all batteries.
The environment directorate initially supported this course for cadmium but relented after a targeted risk assessment indicated a total ban might be unnecessary; instead the Commission has proposed high collection rates aimed at creating a closed-loop system, plus waste stream monitoring to see whether a ban could be considered in the future.
But the rapporteur says monitoring would be too expensive and closing the loop too difficult. He says a ban would be simpler, allowing for exemptions where heavy metals are irreplaceable, for example lead in car batteries, mercury in hearing aid batteries, and cadmium in some industrial batteries.
Mr Blokland's other proposals will give the battery industry major headaches if backed by other MEPs and the council of ministers. He wants the consumer battery collection target of 160 grams per head within four years raised to 200 grams, and says producers should foot the bill for collection as well as recycling.
He says exports of battery waste should be banned unless it is being sent for recycling abroad, and even then authorities would have to "take into account" the external costs of transport before consenting. He also wants to bolster a plan obliging producers to give financial guarantees before entering the market that they will pay for the waste.
The rapporteur wants the law to be based entirely on the EU treaty's environmental protection articles, giving member states free rein to introduce tougher national regimes. He proposes no changes to the recycling levels suggested by the Commission, but wants to close a loophole allowing up to 10% of batteries to escape an obligation for all waste to "enter a recycling process".
In one industry-friendly amendment, Mr Blokland says producers should be able to recoup the costs of waste treatment through a permanent visible fee added to the normal price of batteries, a practice well established in his native Netherlands. The Commission, in contrast, wants a visible fee limited to the costs of treating historical waste, and even then only for four years.