A new law that will profoundly affect the way retailers relate to battery consumers and that will give a boost to the rechargeable market is on its way, but there remains huge uncertainty over precisely what changes it will bring.
Legislation emanating from the European Commission is set to bring changes to the UK battery industry, the main one being a directive with the snappy title Batteries and Accumulators and Waste Batteries and Accumulators, more commonly known as the Batteries Directive.
The directive prohibits the sale of most batteries containing mercury and cadmium. However, its main effect is to "promote a high level of collection and recycling of waste batteries and accumulators and improved environmental performance of all operators involved in the lifecycle of batteries and accumulators, eg producers, distributors and end users".
This means that there will be a responsibility on everybody from makers to consumers to be more environmentally responsible in relation to batteries and is good news for the rechargeables industry, because it would do away with the need to buy new batteries every six months. It may also place a duty on retailers to collect old batteries for recycling. The directive says: "For portable batteries and accumulators, collection schemes achieving a high collection rate should be established.
"This means setting up collection schemes so that end-users can discard all waste portable batteries and accumulators conveniently and free of charge."
Gareth Jones, a member of the secretariat at the British Batteries Manufacturers' Association, says: "The details of how the directive will be applied are still being worked out.
"Whether retailers will be responsible for collection of used batteries is still a matter for discussion, though it remains possible that shops will be required to take back used batteries." How the directive will be implemented when it is passed into UK law will be influenced by trials now being carried out.
Under the auspices of the Waste Recycling Action Project (WRAP) - a not-for-profit organisation for the recycling industry - various methods of collecting batteries for recycling are being evaluated.
Retailer-based trial schemes have yet to be implemented, and the one currently under consideration is a roadside collection scheme that takes all types of single-use and rechargeable batteries, including those for use within mobile phones and laptop computers.
Evaluation of this scheme began in March, but WRAP has yet to announce a date for the trial of a retailer-based collection. nDuty on retailer and consumer