New EU rules for more sustainable and ethical batteries

Source: European Parliament (EP) i, published on Wednesday, November 15 2023.

As batteries become a strategic market, the European Parliament has adopted new rules to tackle related environmental, ethical and social issues.

At least 30 million zero-emission electric vehicles are forecast to be on EU roads by 2030. While electric cars are expected to significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions, they have an environmentally damaging downside: their batteries.

On 14 June 2023, the European Parliament adopted an update of the EU's battery directive to ensure that batteries can be repurposed, remanufactured or recycled at the end of their life.

In a report adopted on 10 March, Parliament said new rules should cover the entire product life cycle, from design to consumption and all the way to recycling into new products. The proposal is linked to the EU’s circular economy action plan and the EU's industrial strategy.

The new rules are linked to the EU’s circular economy action plan and the EU's industrial strategy, aiming to cover the entire product life cycle, from design to consumption and all the way to recycling into new products

Once formally approved by the Council, the new rules will enter directly into force. They will allow for more sustainable, performant and durable batteries.

How are batteries classified?

MEPs called for the introduction of a new category of batteries for “light means of transport”, such as e-bikes or e-scooters, due to their growing use and technical developments. The new category comes alongside the existing portable, automotive and industrial battery classes.

Batteries: a strategic market for the EU

Global demand for batteries is set to increase 14 fold by 2030 and the EU could account for 17% of that demand. This is mainly driven by the rise of the digital economy, renewable energy and low carbon mobility. The increase of electric vehicles using batteries will make this market a strategic one at the global level.

Limiting batteries’ carbon footprint

Batteries will have to carry a label that reflects their carbon footprint so that their environmental impact is more transparent. This will be mandatory for electric vehicle batteries (EV), light means of transport batteries (LMT) and rechargeable industrial batteries with a capacity above 2kWh. In addition, it will cover the entire life of the battery and guarantee that new batteries will contain minimum levels of certain raw materials.

Addressing battery raw material issues

Battery manufacturing is largely dependent on critical raw material imports, notably cobalt, lithium, nickel and manganese, which have a significant impact on the environment and society.

In order to tackle human right abuses and ensure batteries are more ethically sourced, the new rules introduce a due diligence obligation on battery manufacturers. They will have to comply with requirements addressing social and environmental risks around the sourcing, processing and trading of raw materials and secondary raw materials. All economic operators placing batteries on the EU market, except for small and medium-sized enterprises, will be required to develop and implement this due diligence policy.

Increasing batteries recycling

In 2020, close to one half (47%) of portable batteries and accumulators sold in the EU were collected for recycling. There are specific battery recycling processes for each type of battery due to the different metals and compounds used to manufacture them.

More stringent targets for collection are included in the new rules for portable batteries (45% by 2023, 63% by 2027 and 73% by 2030) and for light means of transport batteries (51% by 2028, 61% by 2031).

In addition, all waste from light means of transport, automotive, industrial and electric vehicle batteries should be collected free of charge for end-users, regardless of their nature, chemical composition, condition, brand or origin.

Under the new rules, minimum levels of recovered cobalt (16%), lead (85%), lithium (6%) and nickel (6%) from manufacturing and consumer waste must be reused in new batteries.

Simplifying batteries removal and replacement

The new rules foresee that batteries will need to be easier to remove and replace, while consumers are better informed. Portable batteries in appliances should be designed so that users can easily remove and replace them. This requirement will become mandatory three-and-a-half years after the rules enter into force. More information will be provided on the capacity, performance, durability, chemical composition, as well as the “separate collection” symbol of batteries.

Read more about the circular economy


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