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OVAM: 'At Bebat, batteries are in good hands.'

Bebat helps companies that put batteries and/or battery-operated products onto the Belgian market with their legal take-back obligation. After all, as a manufacturer, you are also responsible for what happens to discarded batteries. How does this cooperation actually work between companies, Bebat and the authorities (OVAM)? Read all about it here.

Are you one of the more than 3,000 Bebat participants? Then Bebat helps you fulfil your obligations with regard to the take-back obligation. Bebat collects all discarded batteries via a national collection network and takes care of the sorting and recycling, while also providing information on prevention and raising awareness. Bebat also collects rechargeable batteries for electric bikes and vehicles and even drones, which are becoming increasingly common. Bebat also takes care of your declarations, collects environmental and administrative contributions and reports to the Belgian authorities.

The exact procedures for each of these activities were laid down in an environmental policy agreement (EPA) between the Flemish Region, FEE vzw/asbl (Federation of Electricity and Electronics), TRAXIO (Federation of the Automotive Sector and Related Sectors), Febiac (Belgian and Luxembourg Automobile and Two-Wheeler Federation) and Bebat. An EPA has also been concluded for the Brussels Capital Region.

This agreement describes (among other things) your responsibilities as a producer/importerwho puts batteries or products containing batteries on the market, and which tasks Bebat can take care of for you.

Bebat regularly consults with OVAM, the Public Waste Agency of Flanders, about the entire battery flow. (see textbox).

What is an EPA?

An environmental policy agreement (EPA) is a commitment between the government and one or more business federations to achieve certain environmental objectives. As a rule, this is a public-private partnership in the context of the take-back obligation. Producers are responsible for what happens to their products after the end of their first life, so that they do not end up being thrown away with residual waste (or as litter) but are safely collected and recycled. This EPA contains specific agreements regarding the collection, recycling, financing and reporting of discarded batteries. Bebat is a key partner in these processes.

Was this the first EPA on this issue?

Marleen Dirckx (OVAM): 'No, it wasn’t. It’s the 3rd EPA; the period covered by the previous EPA had come to an end. The collection system is essential for the take-back obligation for discarded batteries. We discuss this with the sector: What do they think such a collection and recycling network should look like?

These discussions showed that a different approach is needed for large batteries weighing > 20 kg – batteries used in electric vehicles, domestic batteries, appliances for stationary energy storage – than for other batteries. So we need a bespoke system, one that is adapted to the specific needs of particular sectors. These producers often want to reclaim those batteries after their first life, so that they can see exactly what went wrong and learn from it. We wanted to use this EPA to extend previous agreements and also to include the new system for large batteries.'

How does OVAM actually work with Bebat?

Roeland Bracke (OVAM): 'Our cooperation is regulated by legislation. Three times a year, we meet in a consultative committee with the three regions and the ministry for Environment. OVAM is also an observer on the Bebat Board of Directors and at the General Assemblies. We also meet regularly to discuss documents for which OVAM has to give advice or approval, such as management plans and implementation plans. OVAM approves specifications for the recycling and collection orders, after which Bebat surveys the market and submits the processes for approval. Bebat reports to OVAM at the end of March every year, and at the end of June, OVAM reports to Europe for the three regions.'

interview ovam

Collection champions

The sector has to comply with the take-back obligation, which means it has to accept discarded batteries. In the case of batteries for which an environmental contribution is paid, Bebat takes care of the collection.

Good to know: in 2018, Bebat, together with all compatriots in the three regions, collected 3,208 tons of used batteries. In comparison with 2017, this is an increase of 5%, which brings the collection rate to 61.6%. More figures can be found in the Bebat 2018 Annual report.

What has Bebat committed to?

There is a legal minimum collection rate for portable batteries: 45% in Flanders, 50% in Wallonia and Brussels. More is always welcome, less is not. With a rate of 61.6%, Bebat scores well above the regional targets – and well above the European norm of 45%. The collected batteries are sorted at Bebat's subsidiary, Sortbat, and then recycled by specialised recyclers.

What happens to the rest?

Marleen: 'On average, 10% of portable batteries end up being disposed of as residual waste. 61.6% are collected. The rest are often still in use or lying around in consumers’ homes. A third of the batteries are still in devices and are sometimes left there even when the device is end-of-life. Button cell batteries are often never removed. You also need to take into account unreported batteries such as those that are in exported devices.

Bebat's mission is to maximise collection – in terms of cost, of course. It is vital that batteries do not end up in household waste or in nature. Bebat supports OVAM's vision and helps it become a reality.’

The authorities are committed to prevention. Does Bebat play a part in this?

Marleen: 'There are very few battery manufacturers in Belgium and battery design usually doesn’t take place here, either. So we have little impact on the product itself and the indications for safe use. We expect Bebat to support the consumer –also to make informed choices, choices that are good for the environment. It’s also good that Bebat advises consumers on the safe charging, storage and collection of batteries, such as via the Bebat blog.’

The EPA also clearly outlines what the government expects from producers. Marleen: 'The authorities expect producers to take the necessary steps to improve the average quality of batteries and to extend their lifespan. Producers are also obliged to encourage consumers to use batteries appropriately, e.g. by including relevant information on the packaging. Things like this also need to be reported on.'

What do you expect from Bebat in terms of raising awareness?

Roeland: 'Bebat's campaign to promote selective collection is hugely important. AA, AAA, and button cell batteries are all small objects. There is still a risk that they will be disposed of as residual waste. That's why Bebat launches radio and TV campaigns, various other initiatives, includes communication on entrance tickets to festivals, etc. They promote the appropriate use of batteries and provide information about safety and the storage of batteries. Bebat also raises awareness among teachers and children through initiatives such as Villa Pila.'

 



'Bebat’s selective collection of batteries works very well. 90% has been collected correctly, better than paper and cardboard.'


 

How do you explain this success?

Marleen: 'First and foremost, it’s down to the extensive communication about and campaigns to encourage battery collection. Bebat has been working on this since 1996. The dense collection network and the follow-up work by the Bebat field promoters is also hugely important. Bebat barrels are everywhere. They're well maintained and easily recognisable. OVAM is also on top of waste prevention. In other European countries, such as Germany and Portugal, the situation isn’t as good, not least because the efforts are often more fragmented.’

Are the costs involved completely covered by Bebat participants’ contributions, or does the government also contribute?

'We get that question a lot. The producers of batteries are responsible, the government doesn’t subsidise this. The contributions from Bebat members cover everything, including transport and collection costs. Dismantling is labour-intensive, and recycling is not a profitable operation.'

EV batteries and other types of batteries

Bebat has introduced an administrative contribution for batteries weighing more than 20 kg – rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, home batteries, devices for stationary energy storage, etc. It will conclude individual agreements with producers to regulate the collection and processing of this type of discarded batteries.

>  Read more about e-mobility and the processing of EV batteries in this E-mobility Report.

What do you, as a government body, consider important?

Roeland: 'We want the producers of EV batteries to have a comprehensive collection network. They should also contribute to a guarantee fund which can be used for collecting non-identifiable batteries or batteries from bankrupt manufacturers so that these costs don’t have to be borne by the authorities. We also expect them to submit sound reports. It’s vital that consumers have somewhere to go with these batteries, easily and free of charge, with the peace of mind that they will be properly disposed of.'

What grade would you give Bebat?

Roeland: 'An A! Bebat is a dynamic, very passionate team. It’s also a knowledge centre in the rapidly evolving world of batteries, as well as a reliable and responsible partner you can count on. It also thinks proactively about online sales and potential freeriders or organises interregional consultations.’

Martine Vanheers (Bebat): 'The success of this battery story also has the government to thank – for its support and encouragement. Bebat plays a leading role, also at a European level. As I said before, new developments are underway; this is pioneering work for both of us.'


Want to read the EPA in full? It is available here!


WHAT IS OVAM?

The Public Waste Agency of Flanders (Openbare Vlaamse Afvalstoffenmaatschappij, OVAM) is a Flemish government agency that ensures that we handle waste, materials and soil in a thoughtful and environmentally conscious manner. This agency is active in the Department of Environment, Nature and Energy of the Flemish government and is located in Mechelen. It helps families and businesses to reduce waste and to separate it correctly. In collaboration with all Flemish people, OVAM is working towards a circular economy, in order to maximise the lifespan and reuse of products and raw materials. One of the tools at its disposal to achieve this are the extended producer responsability, which also include the responsibility for discarded batteries and accumulators, for which Bebat is the management organisation.

 

Our interviewees

Roeland Bracke and Marleen Dirckx are part of the Product Chains Team – Producer Responsibility Policy at OVAM.


Roeland Bracke
Roeland Bracke: 

Roeland Bracke is a policy officer for a number of products for which the producers are responsible for processing or recycling. Discarded batteries is one of those products. He works on making the policy more robust and expanding it to cover other waste streams. He also monitors the financial situation.

 




Roeland Bracke
Marleen Dirckx: 

As a specialist at OVAM, Marleen Dirckx monitors the flow of discarded batteries and accumulators, the take-back obligation for anyone putting batteries and/or products containing batteries on the market, the environmental policy agreement (EPA) with Bebat, waste transport and recycling, and much more. She also closely monitors the metallurgy sector. She gives advice every day.