Much of the impetus towards collecting and recycling spent batteries is based on the public's suspicions ­ and those of some retailers ­ about the corrosion and leakage of battery constituents in landfill sites. "Batteries are inherently made of reactive metals," says Mike Field of specialist online battery retailer MBS. "You don't want that getting into the water table."
However, Paul Duke of the British Battery Manufacturers' Association thinks the dangers have been overstated. "There's been no mercury content in batteries since early 1994," he says, "and nickel cadmium rechargeables are now the only battery containing any heavy metals ­ a tiny proportion of the batteries sold overall."
Despite the "green" image of anything rechargeable, it is nickel cadmium that causes concern, and early proposals for legislation in this country even included a blanket ban. This seems unlikely to go ahead, but although there is as yet no UK legislation, several local councils have already formulated pilot recycling schemes.
One possible problem is that there's only one company which can handle battery recycling ­ and it's based in France. "Some European countries which have legislation in place are simply collecting batteries rather than recycling them," says Duke. "Having them collected in special dumps can cause more problems than it solves. It's better to disperse them among other metal waste."
With or without legislation, any recycling scheme would require heavy input by retailers, providing instore bins and arranging for the spent batteries to be collected. It's unclear how online retailers like MBS would operate a recycling scheme by post. Nevertheless managing director Mike Field would welcome one: "If the industry doesn't do something about recycling ­ the government will."