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Govt facing fines for delayed battery boxes

July 8, 2008 9:00 AM

Battery collection boxes due for every home have been delayed by the Government, leaving Britain facing fines of millions of pounds.

Britain signed up to the EU Batteries Directive in 2006 in a bid to boost recycling and halt the leaching of acid from old batteries into soil and water.

The UK will have to collect a minimum of 7,500 tonnes of portable batteries for recycling by 2012 to meet its European targets - but last year collected just 600 tonnes.

Britain recycles just three per cent of batteries, compared with 14 per cent in Spain and 59 per cent in Belgium. Battery collection boxes are a familiar sight in offices across Brussels but are almost entirely absent in Britain. Only industrial and vehicles batteries are recycled in the UK at present because they have a significant commercial value.

By September next year the law requires that batteries handed in for recycling must be treated and processed using the most up-to-date technology. By 2012, some 25 per cent of all batteries are due to be recycled. Although there are a handful of plants capable of processing the steel cases of batteries there are none here that can deal with the hazardous chemicals they contain.

So far the government has carried out only pilot studies, and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has cast doubt on whether the final Regulations will be in place by the deadline later this year.

If ministers fail to meet the 2012 targets Britain could face daily fines - and a repetition of the 2002 fiasco when fridge recycling facilities were not set up in time to meet the legal requirements.

Local Liberal Democrat Euro-MP Liz Lynne said there was no excuse for the delays:

"The government does not have to reinvent the wheel. Best practice in countries such as Belgium can provide a model of how to implement battery recycling in the UK."

"Batteries are full of toxic and carcinogenic materials. There are few other household products that, if left in appliances for too long, decay before our eyes and weep acid that can burn severely.

"Britain is being forced at long last to catch up with best European recycling practice and put an end to the mentality of 'out of sight, out of mind' when it comes to waste materials."

Iron, nickel and silver can all be recovered from recycled household batteries which might otherwise contaminate soil and groundwater. Incineration of incinerated batteries can release toxins and heavy metals into the atmosphere.