Nearly 200 million batteries are purchased every year in Switzerland. Most of these batteries are recycled. However, too many are still being disposed of in household waste. Valuable metals are lost as a result. By law, all used batteries must be returned to retail outlets or taken to collection point.
The legislation differentiates between portable, automotive and industrial batteries. Accumulators are also classified as batteries. Batteries of all types are hazardous waste.
Portable batteries are very common and used in numerous electrical and electronic devices which are operated independently of mains electricity. Automotive batteries supply power for vehicle starters, lights and the ignition. Industrial batteries are used for a wide variety of industrial and commercial purposes. These also include batteries for electric vehicles and all batteries that are not included in the other two categories.
The use of lithium ion batteries has become more frequent in all of these categories in recent years. For example, mobile phones and notebooks operate using lithium ion batteries, and they are also used for electric vehicles such as e-bikes and electric cars.
Batteries consist of valuable raw materials like lead, iron, cobalt, lithium, nickel, manganese, and zinc. Thanks to very strict limit values, they contain at most traces of harmful heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. The extraction of the raw materials from natural deposits has harmful impacts on the environment. The submission of batteries for recycling by consumers reduces the volume of new raw materials required.
Solar-powered devices, equipment with mains connections and rechargeable batteries (accumulators) offer possible alternatives to disposable batteries. The use of rechargeable batteries is recommended in devices that require a lot of power (toys, mobile telephones, digital cameras, torches etc.). They can also be used in devices that do not require much power, however this is less worthwhile (remote controls, calculators, kitchen clocks). Disposable batteries usually last months or even a year in such devices.
The majority of the 120 million portable batteries (nearly 3,500 tonnes) sold annually are collected separately and recycled. The rest are thrown away with household waste, despite the fact that this is prohibited. Valuable metals are lost as a result.
Consumers are obliged to return waste batteries to a retail outlet or other collection point. According to the law, all suppliers of batteries, from large-scale distributors to kiosks, are obliged to take back waste portable batteries free of charge. Many communal collection points also provide containers for battery recycling.
Particular care must be taken when using lithium-ion batteries, which are used in model-making (e.g. model aeroplanes and boats). They usually take the form of angular packs of battery cells which have a connecting cable and no solid cover. Such batteries do not have any security mechanism and must therefore be returned to specialist retailers. If they are placed in household battery collections, in the worst-case scenario, they can cause smouldering fires. If model-making batteries are included in sets of mixed batteries, they should be removed and disposed of separately for recycling.
Waste automotive and industrial batteries must also be collected separately and submitted for recycling. Their return to retail outlets or other authorised collection points is free of charge for consumers.
Portable batteries have been recycled in Switzerland since the early 1990s. The recycling plant recovers iron, manganese, zinc and mercury and converts the pollutant substances that arise in the process into a non-damaging form. Nickel-cadmium, lithium-ion and lead batteries are separated prior to processing and sent to specialised companies for recycling, usually located abroad.
Authorised waste disposal companies collect automotive and industrial batteries and export them for recycling. Lead, plastics and battery acid are recovered from automotive batteries, and various metals are recovered from industrial batteries, depending on the type of battery involved. Exports of waste batteries are only allowed to OECD and EU states and authorisation from the FOEN is required. Exporters must demonstrate that the subsequent processing is environmentally friendly.
Financing from a prepaid disposal fee
A prepaid disposal fee covers the cost of the collection, transport and recycling of waste batteries. The fee is included in the purchase price. It is set by the federal authorities based on the battery type and weight.
INOBAT, the organisation for battery recycling in Switzerland, collects, administers and spends the prepaid disposal fee on behalf of the FOEN. INOBAT uses the proceeds from the fee to promote the return of batteries. The organisation also acts as a registration office for all batteries that are placed on the Swiss market.
Exemption from the prepaid disposal fee
The legislation contains provisions for the exemption of certain types of batteries from the prepaid disposal fee. The precondition for this is that the sector maintains an effective collection system and secure financing system with a very high return rate, as well as state-of-the-art recycling methods.
With the enormous growth of electric vehicles, it has become increasingly important to find environmentally sound ways to dispose of electric cars’ old lithium ion batteries. Importers and electric vehicle makers are taking responsibility and working together to put an environmentally sound disposal system in place – from collection to transport and recycling of materials – and to secure the required funding. Makers and importers of electric vehicles have been granted an exemption from paying the prepaid disposal fee, initially for another two years, until the end of 2023. The exemption requires proof that the batteries are being disposed of in an environmentally sound fashion. Electric vehicle makers and importers that are exempt from disposal fees are obliged to take back old batteries free of charge.
BAFU is currently observing the development of the new EU battery regulation and reviewing whether existing instruments are sufficient or legal adjustments are required.
Vehicle batteries, for starters, lights and ignition, are also exempt from disposal fees. The return rate on these batteries is already more than 95%.
You can find more information on disposal fee exemptions here (available in German, French and Italian).
Last modification 28.07.2022