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Recycling batteries and accumulators supports the circular economy effectively

The producer organisations’ battery webinar provided a comprehensive overview of the current state of the recycling of batteries and accumulators and the changes that will be brought about by the Batteries Regulation.

The webinar, aimed at the boards and owners of producer organisations, provided an insight into the current state and future of battery and accumulator recycling and highlighted the importance of cooperation amidst the changing regulations. The webinar was organised in cooperation between the battery and accumulator producer organisations Recser Oy and Akkukierrätys Pb Oy.

The aim of the webinar was to provide representatives of the boards and owners of the producer organisations with the most up-to-date and comprehensive information possible on the current state of battery and accumulator recycling before the Batteries Regulation is ratified.

“Through their activities, the producer organisations have made the recycling of batteries and accumulators safer and more efficient,” said Seppo Tokola, Chairperson of Recser Oy, who chaired the event.

“The aim of the producer organisations is to make it as easy as possible for producers to meet the requirements, and Recser and Akkukierrätys Pb have done a great job in this regard. All board members should recognise the challenges that need to be tackled in the future and the critical role that producer organisations play in this,” Tokola said.

Number of batteries is increasing

It was stated several times during the webinar that, in general, the number of batteries and accumulators on the market is constantly increasing. It is estimated that the electrification of vehicles will lead to a 14-fold increase in the number of accumulators between 2018 and 2030.

The legislation groups batteries and accumulators into three different categories: portable, automotive and industrial. Industrial batteries include e.g. traction batteries and electric vehicle batteries. The webinar presented import statistics, which are compiled on the basis of import volumes reported by members.

“According to statistics, the import volumes of industrial batteries in particular are on the rise,” says Johanna Alakerttula, Managing Director of Akkukierrätys Pb.

“Most lead-acid batteries are imported as automotive batteries. Collection volumes are good, with around 20,000 tonnes of accumulators being recycled each year. However, the grey economy poses risks to the achievement of the recycling targets for lead-acid batteries,” Alakerttula said.

The recycling system is evolving

The number of collection points is no constraint on the recycling of batteries. There are collection points for lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries and primary batteries throughout the country, and the joint awareness-raising efforts of the producer organisations will also improve the flow of side streams into the recycling system.

“Indeed, this is essential as recycling targets tighten and legislation becomes stricter,” says Liisa-Marie Stenbäck, Managing Director of Recser.

“Raising awareness on the risks associated with batteries and cooperation with parties such as producer organisations for electric and electronic equipment are key in the hunt for the ‘lost kilograms.’ Recycling batteries and accumulators supports the circular economy effectively: last year we recovered 9,000 kilos of cobalt, enough for more than half a million mobile phone batteries. The quantities of recycled raw materials may seem small, but the numbers are growing all the time,” said Stenbäck.

The main gap in the collection systems concerns large portable accumulators in consumer use. Currently, the collection of these 10–25-kg lithium batteries falls on the shoulders of individual producers. Another problem is that there is no collective collection system for large industrial lithium batteries, leaving importers responsible for their collection. So far, their collection has worked fairly well.

Innovation and development

The webinar also gave the partners of the producer organisations the opportunity to present their activities and share their views on the future of the battery and accumulator industry.

Timo Saarelainen of Kuusakoski Oy and Jaakko Jäntti of Suomen Akkukeräys Oy described the special features of handling and transporting lead-acid batteries, and Tommi Karjalainen of Akkuser Oy explained the process of sorting the material flow of batteries and accumulators. Lasse Rautio from Tracegrow Oy explained how the zinc and manganese in alkaline batteries can be processed for reuse in agriculture. The CeLLife project at Tampere University, which aims to promote the reuse of battery cells, also sparked some discussion from the perspective of the future Batteries Regulation.

Juha Kenraali from Finnish Car Recycling Ltd presented the collection of traction batteries and compared the current state and future of their recycling. “With the proliferation of electric cars and the reuse made possible by the Batteries Regulation, it may be that batteries will no longer end up at the scrapyard with the cars,” Kenraali said.

“The Batteries Regulation is based on the premise that when a battery is used for a different purpose than the original, producer responsibility is also transferred. It could be that, in the future, batteries will continue their life as energy storage after the end of their use as traction batteries, for example.”

Working together towards new regulation

Recser and Akkukierrätys see advocacy as very important and have actively participated in the discussions and commenting on the amendment of waste legislation and the Batteries Regulation as producer organisations and through the Advisory Board of producer organisations (TYNK). In the webinar, Liisa-Marie Stenbäck and Johanna Alakerttula took a close look at what the battery and accumulator industry will look like in the near future, with the EU’s Batteries Regulation expected to be adopted during the second quarter of the year.

“Hopefully, we will be able to tell you more about the content of the regulation in the summer. At the end of the year, we will also organise a seminar for producers to explain the new requirements,” Stenbäck promised.

Ilmo Hakkarainen, Chairperson of the Board of Akkukierrätys Pb Oy, summed up the interesting themes of the webinar by focusing on cooperation between the boards of the producer organisations and increasing safety at the operational level. Seppo Tokola of Recser Oy echoed the same sentiments.

“Effective realisation of producer responsibility will become increasingly critical with the new requirements. The authority guidelines and rules are constantly tightening, and the new challenges can only be overcome through good cooperation,” Tokola summed up.