The European Council has agreed upon a new regulation to make the production, use and disposal of batteries more sustainable. The initiative aims to create a more circular economy of batteries for environmental and economic improvements. The regulation had been in talks since 2020 and was adopted on the 14th of June 2023 by the European Parliament.
The European Council’s decision aims to extend the life cycle of batteries and reduce battery waste. The regulation pinpoints types of batteries and sets out specific targets for different actors in the industry, with a focus on increasing the recycling of materials through producers’ efforts. This is part of a number of initiatives that have been drawn up as part of the European Green Deal, which aims to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050.
The regulation outlines targets for producers to recycle waste batteries, with a target of collecting 63% of waste portable batteries by the end of 2027 and 73% by the end of 2030. The regulation also aims to collect 51% of waste batteries for light means of transport by 2028, and 61% by the end of 2031.
The incorrect disposal of waste batteries is detrimental to the environment because of toxic substances such as mercury that are released into the environment. This improper disposal also hinders the reuse of raw materials inside, notably lithium.
Due to the growing demand for batteries, the demand for lithium is predicted to increase by 30% every year. The regulation outlines that at least 50% of lithium in waste batteries should be recovered by 2027 and 80% by 2031. At present, lithium is mainly sourced through mining, which expends considerable amounts of energy and results in pollution.
The European Council has set a recycling efficiency target of 80% for nickel-cadmium batteries and 50% for other waste batteries by the end of 2025.
To encourage recycling further, the regulation sets out mandatory minimum levels of recycled content for 3 kinds of batteries: industrial batteries; starting, lighting, and ignition batteries; and electric vehicle batteries. These levels are set at 16% for cobalt, 85% for lead, 6% for lithium and 6% for nickel.
The regulation states that recycled content documentation will be compulsory on all batteries manufactured. This will easily demonstrate whether or not the mandatory levels of recycled content have been met.
Otherwise, the regulation sets out strict rules so that producers verify the source of their batteries’ raw materials. These rules aim to reduce the environmental impact of sourcing these materials, which often involves unsustainable practices such as mining. However, an exception has been made for small-to-medium sized enterprises.
The regulation states that by 2027 portable batteries should be removable from their appliances and replaceable by consumers. Light means of transport batteries will need to be replaceable by an independent professional.
The rise of electric mobility signals a departure from fossil fuelled transport, which is moving the world into more sustainable territory. The European Council’s agreement upon more rigorous regulations is necessary to establish more sustainable modes of transport and appliances by improving the sustainability of producing and using these products. A circular economy encourages producers and consumers to consider the reality of how their resources and products are sourced, in order to not exhaust raw materials and continue to use their products in the future.