What does the reclassification of batteries mean for you?

As of August this year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) changed the way in which batteries will be classified after a two year consultation. From January 2016 non-industrial use batteries under 4kg will be portable and batteries over 4kg will come under the industrial category when being presented for recycling. Before the agreed changes batteries weighing between 4kg and 10kg could have been either portable or industrial, causing confusion for recyclers.

Cawleys welcome the decision by Defra as it puts a greater emphasis on the need to recycle smaller batteries. Portable batteries are the only type that have a recycling target so having stricter clarification will help to make the process easier and encourage people to recycle instead of putting their batteries in the household rubbish.

We know our alkaline from our lithium ion so to help you get your head around the different types of batteries available and more importantly where they come in the recycling classification system we have put together a mini guide below:

What is a portable battery?

A portable battery is any sealed battery that weighs under 4kg and is used for non-industrial purposes. Portable batteries are normally dry cell batteries that are commonly used for low drain portable electronic devices like TV remotes, digital cameras and wireless keyboards. Devices that use portable batteries include mobile phones, laptops, watches and hearing aids. Different types of portable batteries that you will find are:

  • Zinc/alkaline, the most common type of one use battery you will see, they have a high energy density, which means they are long lasting. Being common these types of battery are generally used for TV remotes, toys and clocks etc.
  • lithium, the batteries have higher energy density and lower resistance than their alkaline counterparts. The battery is durable and has a low self-discharge which means it can last up to 15 years. Lithium operates well under various temperatures and is commonly used for mobile phones and laptops. These are classed as hazardous waste due to their volatility especially when short circuited.
  • nickel cadmium, low cost rechargeable battery that has a low energy concentration and long life cycle. The battery is a durable one and can handle fast and pulse charges. The battery does contain toxic metals and performs best when in constant use. Nickel cadmium are commonly used for two-way radios and power tools. Due to their environmental toxicity they are classed as Hazardous.
  • nickel-metal hydride, rechargeable battery that has a 40 per cent higher energy concentration than nickel cadmium but a reduced life span. The battery’s high self-discharge contributes to the lower shelf life. Nickel-metal hydride batteries contain no toxic metals and are generally used in mobile phones and laptops. They are the most recyclable of the rechargeable portable batteries.

One important point to note is that batteries that weigh less than 4kg that are designed for industrial usage will not be classified as portable.

What about industrial batteries?

There are a number of batteries that would fall under the industrial category but the most common are;

  • lead acid, this battery is widely used and was the first rechargeable commercial use battery. Lead acid is very inexpensive but heavy and less durable than other industrial batteries. Capacity can be lost from the battery when it discharges and is recharged. A full charge takes 14 to 16 hours with lead acid but charge retention is good compared to other industrial batteries. Due to the high lead and sulphuric acid content the batteries are hazardous and environmentally unfriendly. Lead acid batteries are commonly used for vehicles, forklifts and golf carts.
  • lithium ion, this is becoming the most popular industrial battery in use today. Lithium ion has a high voltage and high energy density. The battery has a lower self-discharge than nickel iron and stays in good shape with little maintenance. Lithium ion is also more environmentally friendly than lead acid due to the less toxic chemicals used. Lithium ion is commonly seen in hybrid cars and racing cars.

How are batteries recycled?

The different battery chemistries attract different treatment processes but with most batteries the metals inside are targeted and recovered. Lead Acid batteries are the most straight forward to recycle of all the types. Certain Lithium batteries are the most difficult with no domestic metallurgical treatment plants actually in the UK; there are plants available in Belgium and Germany which offer high levels of recovery.

As you can imagine safely collecting and recycling these types of batteries can pose a challenge but Cawleys have many proven strategies that form part of our Hazsolve service, which specifically target the transporting of harmful and toxic waste.

We also have a designated Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) collection and recycling service. This helps us support all types of battery waste and those that generate them. Our work ranges from straight forward collections to the more complex such as industrial Lithium cells, which are becoming more of an issue for the automotive and motorsports sector as Hybrid and Electrical cars become increasingly more mainstream.

Industry best practice

As part of Cawleys professional commitment to stay abreast of all the latest industry and legislation changes we are always adapting to assure we provide the best waste management services for you.

If you have any questions about the changes, or would like to discuss in confidence any aspects of your hazardous or specialist battery recycling please call Sean or Alan in Cawleys specialist division HazSolve on 0845 260 2001.

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