Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Fifth Report


Battery Collection in Belgium

In 1993, a tax on batteries was agreed by the Belgian Government as part of their ecotax legislation. Before this was implemented, a voluntary agreement with industry resulted in the ecotax law for batteries being changed on March 7, 1996. The voluntary agreement was signed on June 16, 1997. Batteries were now to be exempted from the ecotax when a voluntary collection and recycling scheme was set up. The following conditions applied:

  • The system had to be financed by the battery industry
  • Until the year 2000, certain target percentages for recycling had to be met.

The voluntary agreement involved the battery industry setting up a non-profit organisation called BEBAT to co-ordinate the collection and recycling of batteries and ensure that the target percentages were reached. The financing of the 'collection and recycling contribution' was to be paid by members of the organisation (i.e., battery producers and distributors). This contribution would be passed on to the consumers through a price increase. The levy was set by the Royal Decree of April 16, 1996 and AT 4 BEF per battery, is far lower than the ecotax of 20 BEF.

BEBAT is a non-profit organisation founded by the battery industry for the sole purpose of this voluntary agreement. In legal terms, the agreement states that BEBAT is responsible for collecting and recycling used batteries that were sold on Belgian territory. Following the introduction of BEBAT, the number of batteries collected rose significantly. BEBAT collects many more batteries than the regions do, and seems to have taken over the role of separate battery collection from the regions - the percentage of batteries collected by the regions decreased as the percentage collected by BEBAT grew. This is probably due to media campaigns and the high profile BEBAT obtained by the placement of boxes in shops and public places.

BEBAT places collection boxes at approximately 20,000 collection points (market stores, photo shops, jewellers, schools, etc.) at no cost for the owners of the collection points. During the first year BEBAT started an awareness campaign to inform the consumers and distributors about the new system.

Before the voluntary collection system for batteries in Belgium, only a small percentage of them were recycled. The public waste companies considered them to be hazardous waste, and consumers were supposed to collect them separately, but there were no incentives to do so. Of the small number of batteries that were collected separately, only the nickel-cadmium batteries were being recycled.

The voluntary agreement deals with several aspects of collecting and recycling a fixed percentage of used batteries in Belgium. BEBAT is required to fulfil certain collection percentages. These percentage recycling rates are identical to those mentioned in the ecotax law (relating to the proposed deposit-refund system) and are as follows:

  • 40% in 1996
  • 50% in 1997
  • 60% in 1998
  • 67.5% in 1999
  • 75% in 2000

The collected amount of batteries includes the batteries collected by the inter-urban waste companies of the regions through the public collection sites as well as those collected by BEBAT.

The batteries collected by BEBAT must be recycled according to the agreements signed with the three regions. For monitoring purposes, BEBAT is required to provide information to the ecotax commission, the regional governments and the federal government at fixed intervals. Following an annual report, the ecotax commission advises the governments on whether to allow the voluntary agreement to continue. If the prescribed percentage for that year were not been reached, all sold batteries would become subject to the ecotax the following year and BEBAT would be fined.

Up until the present, BEBAT has succeeded in achieving the target collection percentages, but the 1999 figures are not available and as the collection of batteries has shown a decrease over the past three years, the incremental increases are getting smaller every year.

In 1997 the total income of BEBAT amounted to 260 million BEF, while total costs were 235 million BEF. This resulted in a net surplus of just over 25 million BEF, while in 1996 there was a net surplus of 64.4 million BEF. However, BEBAT incurred a net loss of 49.4 million BEF in 1998, and they projected bigger losses in 1999. The higher costs were due to:

  • The improvement of recycling techniques, which lead to a higher recycling percentage but also an increase in costs
  • The growing percentage of batteries that need to be collected by BEBAT, requiring ongoing and more intensive media campaigns.

To cover these costs, BEBAT asked the ecotax commission to allow an increase in the collection and recycling contribution from 4 BEF to 5 BEF. This was allowed.

De Caevel, B. 1995. Ophaalsystemen voor gebruikte batterijen in Belgie: gevoeligheidsanalyse, FEE

Battery Collection in Sweden

According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the battery charge in Sweden is intended to finance the long-term costs for the collection and disposal of spent, hazardous batteries. Under the Ordinance on Environmentally Hazardous Batteries, manufacturers and sellers must pay a charge for certain batteries defined as hazardous. Seller of batteries are obliged to accept used batteries returned to them and to supply information to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency as to the quantity sold. Revenues from the charge are collected in the Battery Fund administered by the Swedish EPA since 1991.

The levels of charge on different batteries are:

Alkaline/Mercury Oxide SEK 23/kg
Nickel-cadmium (NICE) SEK 46/kg
Lead SEK 40 each

29,000 tonnes of batteries circulate in Sweden every year. 25,000 tonnes of these are starter batteries and industrial batteries which contain lead and are therefore classified as hazardous. Of the remainder (mostly nickel-cadmium, though some small lead batteries and button-type batteries containing mercury), 750 tonnes were classified as hazardous in 1994.

The charges for dry-cell batteries except integral nickel-cadmium batteries were introduced in 1987; the charge for starter batteries in January 1991; and the charge integral nickel-cadmium batteries in April 1992.

Lead accumulator batteries

Suppliers of lead accumulator batteries are obliged to take back spent batteries. A charge is levied on manufacturers and importers of such batteries to finance the handling of the used batteries. In 1989, Swedish manufacturers of lead accumulator batteries, scrap merchants and the recycling company formed a joint company (Returbatt) to administer compensation for collection and recycling of starter batteries.

The Swedish EPA collected approximately SEK 42 million in 1995 from manufacturers and importers of lead accumulator batteries. The total administrative costs of the EPA have been estimated at SEK 400,000 and Returbatt's are thought to be about the same. The total costs are estimated to be about 2% of total revenues. The collection rate is considered to be around 100 per cent. The high recovery rate is assumed to be a result of the compensation offered to scrap merchants for batteries delivered for recycling and the fact that consumers want to be rid of the batteries.

Consumers deciding to return spent batteries do so on their own initiative without any financial incentive. Battery charges have financed the supply of information to consumers designed to improve knowledge and awareness.

Dry-cell batteries

Collection of button cell batteries began in the late 1970s and collection of alkaline batteries containing mercury began the following decade. Battery charges were introduced in the late 1980s to cover the cost of battery disposal. Total revenues for NicE batteries sold in 1995 were SEK 15 million.

The most commonly sold alkaline batteries have not contained mercury since 1992. Regarding button-type batteries, there is a move away from mercuric oxide batteries containing 35 per cent mercury to other dry cell types containing less than 1 per cent mercury.

The recovery rate of these batteries has not been highly successful and the charge has been raised on several occasions because of this. The charge on these batteries was raised from SEK 13 to SEK 25 per kg in 1992. It was raised again in 1994 to 46 SEK per kilogram. In 1993, retail associations made a commitment to increase the recovery rate for nickel-cadmium batteries to 90 per cent within two ears. A foundation was established for this purpose (SIMBA - Stiftelsen Insamling av Miljofarliga Batterier "Foundation for the Collection of Hazardous Batteries"). Since 1993 SIMBA has used SEK 21 million from the battery fund in an attempt to establish retail collection systems. The industry withdrew its commitment in 1995 at which point the recovery rate was about 30 per cent. One of the tasks of a Government Commission (the Battery Commission) set up in 1995 was to address this low rate of recovery of nickel-cadmium batteries.


The Battery Commission report in 1996 proposed that the charges be raised to SEK 200/kg for small lead accumulator batteries, SEK 1,500/kg for mercuric oxide batteries, SEK 1,000/kg for hazardous alkaline manganese dioxide batteries and SEK 300 for nickel-cadmium batteries. The reason for these sharp increases was to achieve long-term coverage of the cost of final disposal/storage, increased information supply and collection and sorting of batteries. Another potential instrument discussed as a means of improving the battery recovery rate was a deposit system. However, it was argued that such a system would not cover repayments since sales of hazardous batteries are expected to decline, batteries are inadequately labelled and there is a risk of spent batteries being imported in order to collect the deposit refund.

Source: Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (1997) Environmental taxes in Sweden - Economic instruments for Environmental Policy. Report 4745, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.

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