Phasing out primary batteries will go against Green Deal
September 17, 2020
SPONSORED CONTENT FROM European Portable Batteries Association
Phasing out primary batteries will go against Green Deal
Raise standards instead of phasing out primary batteries, say industry experts
Primary batteries are an indispensable part of our daily lives and can last years, especially in devices with a low energy demand. That’s why they should not be considered as single-use products. In addition, primary batteries have a better eco-balance versus rechargeables in low-drain devices. The European Commission is currently reviewing the Batteries Directive 2006/66/EC with a main focus on environmental sustainability. The proposed measures under discussion include a restriction or even a total ban of primary batteries. To further drive eco-efficiency, promote safety and avoid tons of unnecessary waste, EPBA proposes a minimum Battery Quality Standard.
“Setting quality standards for primary portable batteries will be the most sustainable way forward and will ensure that the new EU batteries legislation will be in support of the objectives of the Green Deal.” said Hans Craen, secretary general, European Portable Batteries Association (EPBA).
The independent studies ordered by the European Commission as part of the impact assessment process showed that even a full ban of primary batteries would only have a moderate effect on the amount of waste batteries, while there would be a considerable negative impact on the environment. The same analysis indicates that a total prohibition of primary batteries would require scrapping a considerably high amount of today’s battery-powered devices, which would become obsolete. This is a significant amount of waste which raises concerns on the compatibility with the circular economy action plan and Green Deal ambitions.
Instead of a ban, the industry is advocating for the introduction of minimum quality requirements for primary cells based on existing International Electrotechnical Commission standards. This will ensure that European consumers have the safest and highest-quality choices available to power their appliances while excluding low- performing ones from the European market.
Frank Imbescheid, PR director, Duracell Europe & Africa, EPBA chair of the board said: “Our industry takes pride in the environmental progress we achieved with our products. Today they are smaller, last longer and use less materials. It’s not correct to consider primary batteries a single use product. They can be used for long periods of time and they are collected and recycled at the end of life. We support the transition to a more circular economy where primary batteries will play an important role in yielding environmental benefits.”
It is a fact that primary batteries are more environmentally sustainable than rechargeable batteries when operated in low-drain devices. The lower and more efficient the discharge level of primary batteries, combined with the need for repeated recharging of rechargeable batteries, makes primary batteries the best choice for low-drain devices since these require lower power level to operate.
Take for instance the case of a regular smoke alarm detector with a service life of 10 years. A 10-year period can be supported by one single primary battery. If it had to switch to rechargeable batteries, these would need to be recharged every few months due to self-discharge and in order to have the smoke detector still operational while the drained batteries are being recharged a second set of rechargeable batteries would be required just for this interim purpose. Looking at the environmental equation, this would actually result in a higher negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions than a primary battery, which in this particular case of smoke alarm detectors, can last as long as the actual lifespan of the device. This negative environmental balance becomes even more prevalent when considering that the Cumulative Energy Demand (CED) to produce a NiMH rechargeable cell is four to five times higher than that of a primary alkaline cell.
Many products have already transitioned to rechargeable batteries where this is advantageous from both a technical and an economic point of view. Take for instance the case of digital cameras, which used to be powered by primary batteries but shifted entirely to rechargeable batteries because of the high power needs of the device. For other products, on the other hand, considerations such as hygiene and sterilization (for medical equipment like pregnancy and ovulation digital self-tests); longevity and reliability (for defibrillators and pacemakers); safety and accuracy (for smart meters) make primary batteries the best solution. It’s important to highlight that, in certain conditions, there is not yet an alternative for primary batteries, for example equipment that is not suitable to be connected to the grid (asset tracking) and disaster or emergency situations where there is no access to power. A combination of primary batteries and rechargeable systems is necessary to offer consumers with the best suited and most sustainable solutions for different kinds of applications.
The environmental impact of primary batteries is further minimized by the collection obligation as set in the Batteries Directive 2006/66/EC. All waste primary batteries brought to a collection point are effectively recycled. Battery recycled material is already being used today by a number of other industries, contributing to a circular economy.
A ban on primary batteries would reinforce the battery industry outside Europe, but the fact is that not all rechargeable lithium-ion batteries entering the EU market show an acceptable level of quality. While low quality primary batteries simply result in low performance and concerns of leakage, low quality lithium-ion cells can result in fires or explosions in devices and therefore pose a severe health and safety risk.
Hans Craen highlighted that “A ban would affect billions of products for which an alternative does not exist or would impact negatively on the functioning of the product, its sustainability or reliability not to mention the design and manufacturing process. We are talking of sectors such as ICT, medical devices, toys, electrical and electronic equipment just to mention just a few.”
Finally, primary batteries are ubiquitous products used in various sectors that are essential to the EU economy. A phasing out would impact negatively on a wide variety of different sectors as highlighted in a joint industry statement issued this week by 14 trade associations opposing to a phase out and calling on the European Commission to withdraw these plans. This demonstrates the negative implications a restriction of primary batteries will have for the European economy, while not bringing the desired environmental benefits. Learn more here about the joint statement against a phase out of primary batteries.
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