The European Parliament has agreed a radical new law aimed at reducing pollution from used portable batteries, ending over two years of debate among European lawmakers. Battery makers will also be forced to provide more accurate information about the performance of their products.

An overwhelming majority of Parliamentarians approved the law with a show of hands on Thursday. The official vote confirmed an agreement reached in May between the Parliament and the 25 national European Union (EU) governments.

Recycle, collect, protect

Once transposed into national laws the legislation will standardise measures for the collection and recycling of batteries and all accumulators, such as those that power mobile phones, laptops and domestic appliances. National governments typically transpose Union-wide laws within 18 months of the law being agreed.

The law aims to reduced sharply the amount of harmful substances that leak from used batteries when they are dumped with regular waste in landfills. In 2002, some 158,270 tonnes of portable batteries and accumulators were sold in the EU's then 15 member states.

Portable battery makers and the shops that sell their products will be obliged to dispose of spent batteries, and new batteries will be restricted in the amount of mercury and cadmium they can contain.

Act global, think local

Public authorities will have to provide collection points in all neighbourhoods and electronics stores and other sellers of portable batteries will have to accept used batteries from users regardless of when and where the batteries were purchased.

But the biggest burden will be felt by battery producers, who will have to cover the cost of recycling and disposing of the substances inside batteries.

The directive bans the sale of batteries and accumulators containing more than 0.0005 per cent of mercury and 0.002 per cent of cadmium, except emergency and alarm systems, medical equipment and cordless power tools.

Tell us the truth

Battery makers will have to register in the countries they produce in. They will also be obliged to label their batteries more accurately. Under existing legislation, they can make exaggerated claims about the power their batteries contain. The European Parliament pushed for the labelling clause.

"This provision was not in the original proposal but Parliament thought the consumer should be able to choose higher-performance and long-life batteries," said Johannes Blokland, the Dutch member of the European Parliament who took a lead in the debate.

"Cheap batteries are not necessarily the best choice for the environment if they have a shorter life. As of 2009, labels on all batteries and accumulators must show their real capacity," he said.

Activate the member states

Only six of the 25 EU countries have collection systems for spent batteries. Belgium collects 59 per cent of all spent batteries, Sweden 55 per cent, Austria 44 per cent, Germany 39 per cent, the Netherlands 32 per cent and France 16 per cent.

The new law lays down minimum collection rates for all 25 member states in the Union of 25 per cent of annual sales by 2012 and 45 per cent by 2016.

In the conciliation agreement reached late Tuesday, the European Parliament and the Council agreed on a recycling target of 50 per cent for all batteries not containing cadmium or lead. The European Parliament had been pushing to increase it to 55 per cent. For batteries containing cadmium and lead there are also specific recycling targets, established at 75 per cent and 65 per cent respectively.

The European Parliament and the Council agreed to exempt small producers from their financial responsibilities.

Approximately 800,000 tonnes of automotive batteries, 190,000 tonnes of industrial batteries and 160,000 tonnes of portable (consumer) batteries are placed on the EU market annually. The metals used vary considerably and include mercury, lead and cadmium, nickel, copper, zinc, manganese and lithium.