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Batteries Directive, Vatra charges awareness

Competing compliance schemes may equal less consumer awareness, claims Varta

The proposed system of competing producer compliance schemes operating without a co-ordinating body, might lead to a lack of awareness of the Batteries Directive amongst consumers. That's the view of Varta, a leading European batteries manufacturer, which fears that an uneducated public will hinder the industry hitting its collection and recycling targets.

The observation from Vince Armitage, divisional vice-president, Varta Consumer Batteries UK, came this week as the Batteries Directive came into force across Europe. While recognising that a competing compliance schemes system will be good for costs and logistical efficiencies, Armitage believes that without a controlling body in place, areas critical to the success of the directive – such as communication and education – will suffer.

“We have already seen what a lack of consumer awareness has done for the WEEE Directive,” said Armitage. “One year on, the majority of people on the street still have no awareness of WEEE and what they should be doing with their end-of-life equipment. We cannot let that happen with the Batteries Directive. The industry has been set challenging targets to hit, ones that Varta feels are achievable – but to attain them, we will need every bit of help, co-operation and support that the public can offer. Without consumers onside and involved, educated by a robust, clear national and regional communications campaign, we will struggle as an industry to meet the targets set.

“However, the concept of multiple, competing compliance schemes could make this crucial education process even more complex, restricting awareness,” he continued. “In theory, competing compliance schemes would have to come together and facilitate a single education campaign.

Likewise, any local campaigns would need to be supported by all schemes. But there is no reason why competing schemes would come together unless it was in their financial interest to do so. Also, without a co-ordinating body, it is hard to envisage how this might work and many questions would be brought to the fore, such as on what basis would costs between the compliance schemes be apportioned and would compliance schemes be willing to fund campaigns in areas of the UK they are not operating in?”

While the Batteries Directive came into force across Europe on 26th September, it still hasn't been decided when the new legislation will become law in the UK, with autumn 2009 being discussed as the latest date. While Armitage believes that the directive needs to come in soon, to give the industry as much chance as possible of reaching its targets, he is pragmatic enough to see that the delay gives the industry time to think about how to get the right messages out to the consumer.

“There is no question that public awareness will be paramount in the success of the directive. A thoughtful, prolonged education campaign is required if we are to stand any chance of altering consumer behaviour. The end-user needs to be educated about why we should recycle batteries, what the benefits to them are in the long run, how they should recycle and where in their locale the end-user can recycle. While the current compliance scheme approach was not supported by the majority of stakeholders who responded to the initial consultation, we need to adapt and keep moving forward. The Government, producers and compliance schemes need to come together and decide how we are going to ensure we're all singing from the same hymn sheet to make this directive a success,” he concluded.

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