21 October 2013

The European Parliament has endorsed a ban on cadmium in portable power tool batteries and included a ban on mercury in button cells after voting in favour of a revision to Directive 2006/66/EC on batteries and accumulators.

The cadmium ban will apply from 31 December 2016 and the mercury ban from autumn 2013.

The mercury ban on button cells (used in watches, remote controls, etc) was inserted by MEPs to help reduce the risk of mercury polluting the environment. MEPs considered that button cells can easily escape into separate waste collection schemes, thus increasing the risk that they will pollute the environment.

The news comes as the Minamata Convention was signed into force in Japan. The new Convention, which is named after the location of the worst-ever case of mercury pollution, covers all aspects of the mercury life cycle. Once properly implemented, it will have global effects, as mercury pollution travels long distances in the air.

Pregnant women, infants and children are at particular risk from mercury in the food-chain, and the Convention will bring about significant decreases to their exposure to this toxic substance in the long term.

The European Commission has already launched work to develop the EU ratification instrument and necessary EU implementing legislation and will run consultations on this in the course of 2014.

The Convention was negotiated by 140 UN Member States, who will now begin their own procedures for ratification.

When the cadmium ban comes into force, nickel-cadmium batteries will only be allowed for use in emergency systems and lighting, such as alarms, and in medical equipment. Cadmium is already banned in jewellery, brazing sticks and all plastics under REACH.

Welcoming the vote, rapporteur Vladko Todorov commented: “I am confident that the adopted measures will improve the current legislation by closing gaps in the Directive. The goal of this legislation is to enable a less costly transition for all in the value chain and to ensure enhanced protection of the environment and human health.”