Batteries

120 million batteries are purchased every year to power various devices and appliances in Switzerland. Approx. 68 % 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, used batteries must be returned to retail outlets or taken to collection points.

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.

Ecological assessment

Batteries consist of valuable raw materials like iron, nickel, manganese, zinc and lead. 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. Despite the increased use of lithium, this light metal is still not recovered today.

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, MP3 players, digital cameras, torches, photo flashes). 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.

Separate collection

Of the 120 million portable batteries (approx. 3,500 tonnes) sold annually, approx. 68 % are collected separately and recycled (recycling rate 2016: 67.8 %). The rest, that is 35 million batteries, are disposed of in 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 boots). 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 should 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. Lithium battery fires are best extinguished using sand.

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.

Disposal/recycling

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

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.

The organisation for battery recycling in Switzerland INOBAT, administers and spends the prepaid disposal fee on behalf of the FOEN. The 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.

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 in question has a functioning collection system and secure financing system with a high return rate. This condition is considered as fulfilled for automotive batteries which have a return rate in excess of 95 %.

Action required

The INOBAT has the task of achieving this aim through the provision of better information in retail outlets and effective public awareness-raising.

Further information

Contact
Last modification 05.06.2018

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