Published: December 14, 2023
Primary batteries have a role to play in the European Green Deal
Since 2006, the environmental impact of primary batteries has even further decreased by implementing the collection obligation set in the Batteries Directive. Furthermore, the new Batteries Regulation increased the ambition of collection by new targets. The collection rate of portable batteries must reach 45% by the end of 2023, 63% by the end of 2027, and 73% by the end of 2030. All waste primary batteries brought to a collection point are effectively recycled.
To further enhance eco-efficiency, promote safety, and minimize waste, the Batteries Regulation includes provisions for establishing a performance and durability standard. This standard will define the following quality parameters for primary batteries: minimum average duration, delayed discharge performance, and resistance to leakage.
The most environmentally sustainable solution for low-drain applications
To ensure the sustainability and efficiency of all non-rechargeable portable batteries on the market, it is important to have strict performance and durability requirements. These requirements are outlined in the Batteries Regulation. Different life cycle assessments (LCAs) confirm that primary batteries are more environmentally sustainable for low-drain applications, requiring lower power levels than rechargeable batteries.
Primary batteries are the preferred choice for low-drain devices due to their lower and more efficient discharge level, as well as the need for repeated recharging of rechargeable batteries. This is particularly relevant as half of today's appliance market focuses on miniature, portable, lightweight, low-drain applications, with continued growth expected in this segment. On average, a household in the EU, which totals 195 million households, has 23.9 battery-powered devices.
Many applications are not suitable for recharging due to technical constraints like accessibility, as well as physical constraints like high temperature (e.g., smart agriculture) and explosive atmosphere (oil and gas industry). Additionally, primary cells are mandatory for use in many military applications, such as ASW-sonar buoys.
Primary Batteries are not single use products
Comparing primary batteries with everyday single-use products (e.g., certain disposable plastic products) underestimates the complexity and technology behind primary batteries and their importance in various essential applications and sectors. Unlike disposable products, primary batteries are energy sources that can be used multiple times, even in different devices, until they reach their end of life. Referring to them as "single-use batteries" is highly misleading because, in many applications, they can provide power for up to two decades without needing replacement or recharging.
The future of primary batteries
During the discussions leading up to the adoption of the Batteries Regulation, measures leading to a restriction or even a ban on primary batteries were under consideration. Although primary batteries will ultimately not be restricted in 2024, when the Batteries Regulation becomes applicable, the Commission will, by the end of 2030, assess the feasibility of measures to phase out primary portable batteries of general use. The feasibility study will have to be based on the life cycle assessment methodology and viable alternatives for end-users.
Restricting primary batteries would undermine their importance in various essential applications and sectors, as long as there is no similarly effective and sustainable alternative. Primary batteries provide a sustainable and efficient solution for low-drain applications, have a long lifespan without needing replacement or recharging, and are essential for certain technical and physical constraints.