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Q1 2021 Battery market report

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2021 UK waste portable battery collections

In our first portable battery market report for 2021 we review the most recently published 2021 UK waste portable battery data – that for Quarter One, January to March.

The quantity of portable batteries that was placed on the market in quarter one of 2021 was 22% higher than in the same period in 2020. This mirrors the trend in EEE placed on the market, which showed a significant increase compared to the same period in 2020, most likely due to increased consumer spending on home and home entertaining products during the Covid-19 national lockdowns.  The quantity of waste portable batteries collected by battery compliance schemes (BCSs) increased by a broadly similar percentage and was 18% higher in Quarter One 2021 than in Quarter One 2020. This was different to the position for WEEE collections, which saw a year-on-year fall.

Drilling down further into the data highlights the important question about the longer-term attainability of UK waste portable battery collection targets, given the increasing disparity between the tonnage of portable lead-acid batteries placed on the market and that collected. Defra’s review of the Batteries and Accumulators Regulations, on which they are expected to consult in late 2021, will seek to address this. Options being discussed currently include improving awareness about battery recycling, making it easier for people to dispose of their waste batteries and the value of introducing chemistry specific targets.

The graphs below, which uses data for the years from 2014 to 2021, illustrate the trend in UK portable battery collections by chemistry type – lead-acid compared to the “other” chemistry.

Since 2014, “other” batteries have accounted for 94.4% of the portable batteries placed on the market by BCS members, however, only 34.4% of the waste portable batteries collected by BCSs. Conversely, lead-acid batteries have accounted for 4.4% of the portable batteries placed on the market, but 61.9% of the waste portable batteries collected. Whilst the high proportion of lead-acid batteries collected compared with placed on the market is a long-established and widely reported issue, analysis of the data also shows that the quantity of “other” waste portable batteries collected by BCSs has reduced since 2019, whereas lead-acid batter collections reported have increased.

The Covid-19 pandemic clearly had an impact on waste portable batteries collections in 2020, with the closure of non-essential retail outlets and restricted access to HWRCs for periods of the year. It is possible that more of the “other” portable battery chemistries are collected through these routes so consequently, this necessitated greater collection of lead-acid batteries to achieve the UK collections target.

Whilst the impact of Covid-19 on the chemistry mix of portable battery collections could be temporary, it further highlights the reliance on lead acid batteries to achieve targets. Adopting chemistry specific targets may initially appear to be a solution to this, however the lifecycle of portable batteries is not currently sufficiently understood or documented and until we have a better understanding of this such an approach could have unintended consequences and result in market distortion. We look forward to the outcome of the Ricardo review on battery flows, and to exploring ideas for system reform with Defra in its review of the Batteries and Accumulators Regulations.

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