Despite their crucial role in increasing the integration of renewable energy sources in our economy and in decarbonising the transport sector, batteries do not come at no cost to the environment. These products impact on, in particular, biodiversity, water and air quality from mining and extraction of a number of critical raw materials, as well as from their disposal and recycling, not to mention a potentially significant carbon footprint if inefficient manufacturing processes and carbon-intensive energy sources are used.
A coalition of NGOs – Deutsche Umwelthilfe, ECOS, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and Transport & Environment – representing some of Europe’s largest green groups at the national level reminded that currently, the main legal framework on batteries in the European Union is the Battery Directive, a piece of legislation that is more than a decade old (it dates back to 2006) and as such it fails to address new technologies and the environmental challenges associated with these. For example, it includes requirements for placing batteries on the market, as well as their collection, treatment and recycling, leaving out electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
At the end of 2020, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Regulation on batteries and waste batteries, the first policy worldwide to cover the whole battery value chain.
Overall, the coalition of NGOs agrees that the proposed regulation addresses several crucial elements which set the right way forward towards the sustainability of batteries. However, several aspects remain a matter of concern. For example, proposals foresee recovery targets of 70 per cent for lithium by 2030, but this threshold is far too low to enable a competitive and circular EV value chain.
In their latest position paper, these NGOs are calling on Ministers to seize this opportunity and improve the Commission’s proposal further by introducing manufacturing requirements to ensure optimal performance as well as replaceability, disassembly, repairability and reusability. Also, by ensuring that carbon footprint rules incentivise real-world use of green energy with independent verification of industry data, in particular from third countries. They also suggest ensuring better collection of spent batteries by introducing a deposit return system and by implementing mandatory tests to determine whether it is technically possible and economically reasonable to reuse a battery.
Read the full position paper here.