EU recycle drive thwarted by mobile phone horders

Attempts to make the EU more environmentally friendly stifled by citizens holding onto old mobiles.

EU policy makers trying to make Europe greener are facing an uphill struggle as Europeans horde rather than recycle their old mobile phones, according to an industry association.

An EU directive adopted last year mandates increasing recycling rates for batteries, but recycling levels for some types have declined due to consumer habits, the European Battery Recycling Association (EBRA) said.

EBRA members recycled over 30,000 tonnes of batteries in 2006, which is 20 per cent more than a year earlier due to an increase in the biggest category, disposable batteries.

But levels dropped for rechargeable batteries made from lithium-ion and nickel metal hybrid, whose sales have boomed for use in laptops and mobile phones.

"I don't know about you but I kept my old first cellular phone," EBRA President Bertrand Schutz said.

"It is in a drawer and every three years I change, I put it in and I keep the old accumulators," he told Reuters on Wednesday on the sidelines of a conference on battery recycling.

"People keep the batteries at home, that's a real problem."

According to the EU directive, a quarter of portable batteries sold must be collected by 2012, rising to 45 per cent by 2016.

Schutz said the 25 per cent level can be reached easily in each of the 27 EU member states.

But attaining 45 per cent will be more difficult and even Western countries with long traditions of recycling will find it hard to reach the higher levels.

"Forty-five per cent is challenging," Schutz said.

A European Commission official said member states had been given sufficient time to reach the targets and producers must finance communication campaigns to persuade consumers to cooperate.

"The directive contains an obligation to inform the consumers about chemical content, environmental impact and about where they can drop (the batteries). That can help a lot," Orsolya Csorba of the Environment Directorate-General said on Thursday.

The EU targets set a recycling rate of 65 per cent by weight for lead-acid batteries and accumulators, 75 per cent for nickel-cadmium and 50 per cent for others.

Some member states, especially in Eastern Europe, have no recycling facilities yet.

"Treatment today means safe disposal," said Gabor Baranyai of Hungary's Environment Ministry.

But Schutz said this could be solved by regional cooperation and by sending batteries to other countries for recycling.

"Today there is an overcapacity of recycling (in Europe)," he said.

EBRA's 18 members recycled 3,050 tonnes of nickel-cadmium batteries in 2006, slightly less than a year earlier as these types of batteries have become less popular.

Lithium-ion battery recycling fell to 547 tonnes from 635 in 2005.

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