Taxing batteries

Applying ecotax to disposable batteries
Enforcing take-back schemes for batteries
Recycling batteries
Applying battery-recovery mandates
Charging advance-disposal fees for batteries
In 1998, more than 20 countries required "take-back" and recycling of used batteries. However, a 1999 report found that while a number of countries, such as the Netherlands, require a 90% recovery rate for nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) rechargeable batteries, none has been able to recover more than 60%. Moreover, as fast as manufacturers can set up a recovery scheme for Ni-Cd's, manufacturers are turning to lithium ion and nickel metal hydride batteries -- not considered "hazardous" and require no take-back in most areas.

Draft amendments to the EU Batteries Directive would require 75% recovery of all household batteries. It would also ban cadmium batteries, which would require costly re-tooling for a number of firms making power tools, camcorders and other small appliances.

Switzerland's law requires advance disposal fees on Ni-Cd batteries, equal to around $0.13 per battery. If a recovery rate of 80% is not achieved within six years, deposits will be required. The most stringent countries in Europe and Asia are implementing takeback requirements for all batteries, even though only ni-cd and lead acid batteries have any genuine toxics in them.

Collection and recovery of batteries is not cheap. US manufacturers pay about $7 million per year for a national collection and public education campaign but manage to collect and recover only a fraction of ni-cd batteries. In 2001, San Francisco passed a resolution recommending new local "producer responsibility" legislation for household batteries, claiming industry has not collected enough volumes in its national recycling programme (and less than 1% in the district).

A number of Latin American countries have moved to ban imports of hazardous wastes under the Basel Ban Amendments - but this is causing some intra-market distortions, according to "Recycling & Solid Waste in Latin America, 2002 Update" published last week by Raymond Communications, Inc. Brazilian companies could not export the material to Argentina for recycling at an authorized Ni-Cd battery recycler because of hazardous wastes import bans under the Basel Convention Amendments. Thus, the batteries must be shipped to France.

The purpose of the tax is to ensure separation of the waste stream of batteries from other domestic waste. Ecotaxes would not be necessary if industry sets up and finances a deposit refund system that enable it to valorize the collected batteries without government intervention.
Counter Claim:
1. As fast as manufacturers can set up a recovery scheme for ni-cd's, manufacturers are turning to lithium ion and nickel metal hydride batteries -- not considered "hazardous" and require no take-back in most areas.

2. When regulators banned mercury in batteries, they hoped to wipe out mercury batteries in the waste stream. Eventually this will happen, but studies show it will take many years because people keep old alkaline batteries around the house.

3. The market for rechargeable batteries is expected to boom in the less developed countries as they catch up in laptop computers and cell phones usage, the report says. So, despite a host of conflicting regulation in the developed world, it appears that the bulk of "hazardous" batteries could end up disposed in areas where there is no recycling infrastructure to deal with them.

4. Consumers find it difficult to sort out which batteries to recycle or take back; mandating recovery of all batteries won't work.

5. In some applications ([eg] power tools and camcorders) there are no alternatives to cadmium batteries. Deposits, which might provide an incentive for take-back, do not yet exist. Enforcement of laws for both labelling, recycling and prohibition of dumping batteries is nearly impossible.

6. Only 7% of today's portable batteries contain enough heavy metals to be considered "hazardous".

Type Classification:
G: Very Specific strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions