Metal recycling firm calls for stronger battery recycling targets

S. Norton Group is a leading global exporter of responsible recycling. The company is urging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to set stronger battery recycling targets to ensure the safety of workers and communities in the recycling sector.

Defra plans to consult on the waste batteries and accumulators regulations and create a comprehensive UK Battery Strategy. This strategy will be crucial in achieving the UK’s net zero targets and supporting economic growth.

The current regulations require battery producers to provide evidence of battery recycling to fund the recycling infrastructure. However, the recycling targets for portable batteries do not incentivise the recycling of lower-value and more problematic batteries like alkaline, nickel-cadmium, and lithium-ion.

The current broad target is to recycle 45% of all batteries placed on the market every year without distinguishing between different types of batteries. Lead-acid batteries are easy to recycle and have inherent material value, so they make up most of the 45% recycled, accounting for over 70% of recycling. This is even though they represent only 3% of portable batteries on the market.

It is crucial to increase the separation, collection, and recycling of non-lead acid batteries, especially lithium-ion, as there is a severe lack of recycling facilities in the UK for this type of battery. According to the Environmental Services Association, lithium-ion batteries are responsible for around 50% of all waste fires occurring in the UK each year because they are often hidden in the waste stream. Additionally, valuable materials such as lithium and cobalt in these batteries are not recovered, which does nothing to help our transition to a circular economy.

Setting specific targets for the different types of batteries would encourage the separation and recycling of all batteries, including lithium-ion batteries, leading to higher collection rates and safety standards. The funds from the compliance scheme could be used to develop much-needed infrastructure and communication.

S. Norton Group is calling for specific recycling targets for each battery type to incentivise the development of battery recycling processes and to minimise the number of lithium-ion batteries finding their way into the waste stream.

Tony Hayer, Managing Director of S. Norton Group, said: “At S. Norton Group, we have invested heavily in measures to minimise the risk of incidents caused by lithium-ion battery fires. We manually sort through every load of waste before it is accepted across our sites. We work closely with the fire service to ensure our fire procedures are the best they can be and install the best-in-class fire-fighting equipment as we continue to invest in our sites.

“However, tougher regulation is needed to force change in the industry and the supply chain to ensure that batteries are separated, collected and disposed of correctly. Suppose this 45% recycling target is applied to each battery category. In that case, it will tighten the manufacturer compliance schemes that will help keep lithium-ion batteries out of the waste stream and ultimately result in a safer environment for all.”

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