(Some) Batteries not included: a guide to the EU Batteries Directive and its implementation across Europe

12 April 2010

Tom Snaith, Luisa Zukowski

Directive 2006/66/EC (the “Battery Directive”) came into force on 6 September 2006 and required Member States to implement its provisions into national law by 26 September 2008. This article looks at the background, objectives and main provisions of the Battery Directive and what it means for those affected. We will also look at the status of the Battery Directive’s implementation into the national law of the Member States of the EU.


According to the UK’s Environmental Agency only 3% of household batteries are recycled in the UK with the vast majority ending up in landfill where they are prone to chemical leakage. Whilst certain other Member States are leading the way as a regards the treatment of potentially hazardous batteries, the primary aim of the Battery Directive is to help harmonise and minimise the impact of batteries and accumulators on the environment across the EU. It seeks to do this by firstly prohibiting the supply and distribution of all batteries containing more than a prescribed amount of cadmium or lead. Secondly, it provides certain obligations on Member States in relation to the collection, treatment and recycling, and disposal of batteries, the cost of which is to be borne by battery producers.

Scope and exclusions

All types of battery are within the remit of the Battery Directive, regardless of their shape, weight, material composition or intended use. It captures portable batteries (such as AA or AAA, or mobile phone/PDA batteries), button cells (like those in digital watches), battery packs (meaning batteries embedded in devices and not intended to be removed), as well as rechargeable batteries (such as nickel cadmium and lithium ion batteries).

For certain provisions the Directive identifies and differentiates ‘automotive batteries’ (being batteries used for automotive starters, lighting or ignition in vehicles) and ‘industrial batteries’ (being batteries exclusively designed for professional use or in electric vehicles, e.g. those in hybrid motor cars).

However, batteries concerned with national security interests, or which are intended to be sent into space, are excluded.

The prohibition

The Battery Directive effectively bans any dealing in the EU of batteries containing more than 0.0005% of mercury by weight, or portable batteries containing more than 0.002% of cadmium by weight. Owing to de minimis and policy decisions respectively, the mercury prohibition does not apply to button cells with a mercury content of less than 2% by weight, and the cadmium prohibition does not apply to portable batteries used in emergency and alarm systems, or medical equipment.

Collection schemes and targets

Member States are now required to establish collection schemes to enable end users to dispose of waste portable batteries at accessible locations without cost to the end-user and without the end-user being required to purchase any replacement battery. A ‘distributor’ (being anyone who provides batteries on a professional basis, and which presumably covers shops, supermarkets, etc.) is required to take back waste batteries, unless existing schemes are already sufficient to meet the aims of the Battery Directive. Although no sanction is specified, Member States are required to meet a minimum collection target for portable batteries of 25% in September 2012 and 45% in September 2016 calculated by reference to annual sales.

Producers of automotive and industrial batteries are now required to establish collection schemes for those types of batteries. Given this and the prohibition of disposal discussed below, the Battery Directive has effectively established a 100% collection target for these types of batteries.


The disposal of waste automotive and industrial batteries in landfill or by incineration is now prohibited. However, residues of those batteries which have been treated accordingly to certain requirements (including the removal of all fluids and acids amongst other things) may be disposed of in that manner.

Information and labelling requirements

Member States must now undertake, by way of information campaigns, to ensure that end-users are fully aware of the potential harmful effects of batteries on the environment and on health. End users must also be informed of the collection and recycling schemes that are available.

All batteries are to display the ‘crossed out wheelie bin’ symbol shown below. And where appropriate, the symbol must be accompanied by the chemical symbols for lead, cadmium or mercury (Pb, Cd and Hg respectively).



In the UK, the implementation of the Batteries Directive has seen the introduction of two new regulations. The first is the Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2008 which deals with the restrictions on the use of certain hazardous substances in batteries and the labelling requirements for new batteries. The second is the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009 which introduces a system for the separate collection, treatment and recycling of waste batteries.

With the exception of Greece, at the time of writing, all Member States have taken some steps to implement the Batteries Directive into their national legislation. The articles that follow discuss how the Battery Directive has been implemented in Germany and Poland:

Germany Battery Act – overview of the changes

New regulations concerning batteries distribution - the Polish Batteries Act of 12.05.2009