There is nothing new about recycling batteries and waste products from nickel-cadmium batteries; but several developments have occurred in the last twenty years.
National and international regulations are prohibiting to an ever-increasing extent the disposal of nickel-cadmium batteries on rubbish tips as well as their incineration along with household waste. A number of countries have already introduced collection systems:
• either all batteries and accumulators undifferentiated (Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and others);
• or specifically nickel-cadmium or rechargeable portable batteries (USA, France, Denmark, Japan and others).
The tables below show collection figures for Europe for both industrial batteries and sealed units and power packs.
The objectives, which are tending to be governed by increasingly stringent regulations, show that collection systems should increase very appreciably.
In Europe, the annual tonnage of NiCd, NiMH and Li-Ion batteries is certain to increase fourfold in the period 2001 to 2008.
Used Battery Collection and Recycling G. Pistoia, J.-P. Wiaux and S.P. Wolsky (Editors) © 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Primary Battery Recycling in Europe Neil Watson
European Portable Battery Association, Hazelwick Avenue, Crawley, Mallory House, West Sussex RH 10 1FQ, Great Britain
The term "general purpose consumer battery" can be used to describe any portable battery system. This includes both single cells, such as those used in torches, radios or other similar devices and "battery packs" used within mobile communication and cordless tools for example. The term covers both rechargeable chemistries, as well as the more abundant single use chemistries.
The term "primary battery" is used to describe any single use battery system. These include, amongst others, alkaline-manganese, zinc-carbon, lithium, mercuric oxide and zinc-air chemistries. Primary batteries are lightweight and convenient, relatively inexpensive and consequently are used by households throughout the world to power portable electrical and electronic devices, radios, torches, toys and a whole host of other every day appliances.
The most common primary batteries in use today are the zinc-carbon and the alkaline-manganese battery systems. Together, they constitute in excess of 90% by weight of the total consumer battery market in Europe. Consequently, particularly within the realm of battery recycling, the term "primary battery" is often used to describe just these two systems.
Historically lead-acid, silver oxide and industrial nickel cadmium batteries were collected by entrepreneurs and recycled at the end of their lives due to the economic value in the materials they contained.
In the early 1980's primary batteries became subjected to increasing attention by environmental authorities and interest groups particularly in Scandinavia, Germany and Benelux countries. Concern was voiced on the significance for the environment of disposing batteries containing mercury with normal domestic waste and particularly when such waste was incinerated. It was believed that mercury from waste batteries dispersed into the environment leading to hazardous concentrations in soil, crops and freshwater fish.
Although several studies carried out in Europe, Japan and the USA concluded that mercury from batteries in waste does not pose a threat to the environment irrespective of the means of disposal, legislation was introduced to control the dispersal of mercury, cadmium and lead from waste batteries into the environment by separately collecting waste mercuric oxide, nickel cadmium and lead-acid batteries.
Unlike lead-acid and silver oxide batteries, which have historically been collected and recycled due to their economic value, collection and recycling of general purpose batteries is currently undertaken at a cost to the waste generator. All responsible manufacturers whatever the industry, recognise a need to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. However this is rarely possible at zero cost. In the late 1980's many battery systems still contain a significant proportion of toxic elements whose environmental impact after use needed to be controlled.
Some Member States began introducing measures for controlling the marketing and disposal of batteries. In view of this and in order to avoid the creation of barriers to trade and distortion of competition in the Community if this trend was allowed to continue, the European Council approved in March 1991 Directive 91/157/EEC "on batteries and accumulators containing certain dangerous substances".
• European Legislation
The focus of European legislation for battery waste has been to reduce the impact on the environment of batteries containing heavy metals. Council Directive 91/157/EEC "on batteries and accumulators containing certain dangerous substances" was introduced with the aim of restricting the use of batteries containing cadmium, mercury and lead and controlling their disposal.
Specifically the Directive prohibits the marketing of general purpose alkaline-manganese batteries containing more than 0.025% mercury (0.05% for special purpose types). Furthermore it calls for the marking and separate collection for recovery or controlled disposal of batteries which contain more than 0.025% cadmium, 0.4% lead or 25 milligrams of mercury.
The effect of this Directive on the european primary battery industry should have been limited, as neither alkaline-manganese nor zinc-carbon batteries contained significant quantities of these metals, certainly well below directive levels, if any at all.
Neither alkaline-manganese nor zinc-carbon batteries contain any added cadmium. Cadmium can be present as a naturally occurring contaminant within the zinc component at up to 0.002% by weight.
Lead is sometimes still used in both battery systems. In zinc-carbon batteries it is employed chiefly as an alloying addition to improve the forming characteristics of the zinc can, and additionally acts as a corrosion inhibitor. In alkaline-manganese it has found use as a plating alloy on the brass nail to reduce gassing. In zinc-carbon cells, the lead content is in the order of 0.02% and in those alkaline-manganese batteries where lead is still used, the addition is at a level of a few parts per million.
Until the early 90's, mercury was added to both alkaline-manganese and zinc-carbon batteries to perform various functions within the anode. These included suppressing the hydrogen gas evolution within the cell, inhibiting corrosion and improving shelf life. Before 1985 mercury was added in concentrations up to 1% of total cell weight in alkaline manganese batteries and 0.01% in zinc carbon batteries. In 1985 the european battery manufacturers began a programme to reduce the mercury content of batteries as far as technology would allow. By 1991, the year that the Directive was proposed, these had been so successful that mercury had been eliminated from all european produced zinc-carbon cells and reduced to below the 0.025% Directive threshold for alkaline-manganese cells. The reduction programme continued until 1993 when mercury additions were completely eliminated from alkaline-manganese cells as well.
Today only background levels of mercury remain within primary batteries. This is the naturally occurring mercury associated with the zinc components. Typically this is less than 2 parts per million and always less than 5 parts per million.
• National Legislation
On a national level, the implementation of the European Union Battery Directive is far from harmonised. There currently exists a diverse, often complex, array of legislation which is continuously evolving. Table 1 summarises the european national legislation situation as of May 2001. In many countries the legislation simply enforces the requirements of Directive 91/157/EEC, but in others the legislation goes beyond the Directive to encompass the collection of all consumer battery systems, regardless of their contents, and, where feasible, enforcing their recycling. Why is this?
Although the European Directive 91/157/EEC does not include collection targets, Article 7 does charge Member States with ensuring the efficient organisation of collection programmes for those battery systems covered by the Directive. The problem arises because the general public, with limited experience of the different battery types, are unable to easily distinguish between batteries which should be collected separately and those which need not. This has resulted in either a poor response to dedicated collection programmes or non-Directive batteries being collected in error.
Furthermore, as the Directive is limited to those batteries containing more than a certain amount of dangerous substances, it leaves the Member States free to act individually on those which fall outside its scope. Consequently in order to maximise the collection of the Directive batteries, some States believe the simplest solution is to legislate for the collection of all battery chemistries.
The Directive batteries constitute less than 10% of the general purpose batteries marketed in Europe today. As these are typically rechargeable systems, they remain with the consumer far longer than the primary types. In those countries collecting all batteries, studies undertaken by the battery industry, in collaboration with the collection authorities, have shown that more than 95% of the batteries collected fall outside of the European Battery Directive.
Should this solution therefore be considered to be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut? From the simplistic viewpoint of meeting the requirements of the European Battery Directive, yes, but for the Member State, this solution has additional benefits. It can also be viewed as encouraging waste recycling generally and reducing political pressure from environmental lobbying groups and other interested parties. Furthermore waste recycling is considered to create more employment opportunities than waste disposal.
• The Response of the Primary Battery Industry
Since the primary battery industry had invested heavily in making their products
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