1 - How many types of batteries and accumulators are there?

The legislation envisages three macro-groups: portable batteries and accumulators, industrial accumulators, and automotive accumulators, which in turn are subdivided into micro-categories, differentiated by their chemical composition or according to their use.

According to the legislation, the waste is generated when “The holder discards or intends or is required to discard it”, which in the case of batteries and accumulators, this usually happens when they are exhausted and need replacing.

Recycling is required by the legislation for three reasons:

1. limit the use of landfills and thus reduce the waste sent to them;
2. recover the material without the need to resort to extractions of virgin raw materials;
3. prevent the dispersal of substances harmful to humans and the environment.

Proper waste management and therefore its recycling is essential in order to implement the circular economy approach.

Batteries and accumulators can contain substances harmful to humans and the environment. Examples of these are: zinc, cadmium, mercury and lead. Yet, they also contain precious and recyclable raw materials (lead itself, nickel, rare earths, lithium, iron, zinc, manganese) which, if properly treated, can be recovered and re-used creating new resources and new products, such as photovoltaic panels, new batteries, car number plates and much more. Which means, for example, that for every ton of alkaline batteries collected and properly treated, over 300 kgs of zinc and 250 kgs of iron and nickel can be recovered.

In order to allow recycling of such waste, a separate collection and proper treatment are required.

According to the latest Eurostat data available, in 2018, 88,000 tonnes of spent portable batteries were collected for recycling in Europe, while 1.4 million tons of lead batteries entered the recycling processes in the EU in 2018. At national level, according to the data from the National Batteries and Accumulators Coordination Centre (CDCNPA), in 2019, the collection of portable batteries exceeded 10,000 tonnes, while for industrial and automotive accumulators more than 176,000 tonnes were collected.

It should be noted that the quantities accounted for by the CDCNPA relate to waste collected through collective and individual systems and do not include WBA independently collected and managed by third parties (not registered in the Coordination Centre) which do not have any reporting obligation to the CDCNPA.

Unfortunately, due to their small size, portable batteries and accumulators often escape the recycling pipeline, lying forgotten at the bottom of a drawer or box in the house, or on a shelf or even thrown in the rubbish bin as unsorted waste.

The EU Batteries Directive has introduced minimum collection targets for the WBA stream with the aim of promoting the recovery of Secondary Raw Materials in order to introduce them into new production cycles without the need for new extractions from the ground. The Directive provides for the achievement of a collection rate of 45% compared with the average volumes placed on the market in the last three years (including the year of collection).

According to Eurostat data, 18 EU countries achieved the collection target in 2018. Of the five main European economies, the best performance was recorded by Germany with a collection rate of 47.7%. Then follows France with 46.7%, the United Kingdom 45.1% and Spain 37.5%. As for Italy, the latest official data are those for 2016, which see our country almost 10 percentage points below the 45% target, namely at 35.3%, but according to the data for 2019 released by the National Batteries and Accumulators Coordination Centre the collection rate stands at around 43%.

Portable batteries and accumulators undergo different treatment, recycling and disposal operations according to type and chemical composition. This is essential to avoid the dispersion of polluting substances in the environment and maximise the recovery of recyclable materials. After collection, this waste undergoes a first selection stage which allows the sorting of the materials and their differentiation according to the type. Batteries and accumulators can be subjected to two types of processes:


  • Hydrometallurgical, mainly used for alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries. After grinding, the different fractions of paper, plastic, battery paste, ferromagnetic materials and powders can be obtained, which are then subjected to leaching capable of transferring into solution zinc ions, manganese and cadmium, from which graphite and manganese dioxide are separated and the zinc recovered mainly by electrolysis;
  • Pyrometallurgical: after grinding, all the iron components are magnetically separated and the powder treated in high temperature furnaces. This procedure is used to recover mercury, cadmium and zinc.


Conversely, Industrial and Automotive Accumulators require different recovery and recycling methods. Those containing lead must be collected separately and taken to dedicated storage areas. The first phase involves crushing, i.e. a mechanical process through which the physical parts of the device are shredded and separated.

10% of them are usually represented by plastic which is directly recycled, while the metal parts undergo an additional two-steps process for the extraction of lead:


  • Melting: the lead is melted and collected thanks to particular chemical reagents;
  • Refining: the lead deriving from the melting phase is subjected to a further step at the end of which impurities are removed. This phase gives rise to ‘secondary lead’, i.e. second raw material which has the same intrinsic capacities as the extracted metal.

For other types of industrial accumulators, their disposal and treatment are carried out mainly abroad, due the lack of treatment plants on the Italian territory.

Any store selling portable batteries and accumulators (e.g. supermarkets, malls and various shops, including tobacconists) must ensure the take back of the inherent waste by means of a container visibly placed near the sales counters without the obligation to purchase a new product.

The same happens with industrial and automotive accumulators: whenever they are replaced by a car electrician, workshop or dealer, they must also take back the waste.

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