October 2014

Examining the Impact of a Ban on Mercury in Button Cell Batteries

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A report by Eunomia and the Ӧko-Institut has concluded that viable mercury free alternatives exist for all the commonly used hearing aid button cells.

The report, recently published by the European Commission’s DG Environment, examined the potential impact upon product manufacturers and users of hearing aids of the entry into force of a Europe-wide ban on mercury in button cell batteries.

Under Article 4.2 of the EC Batteries Directive (2006/66/EC), button cells are currently exempted from the restriction that batteries and accumulators should contain no more than 0.0005% mercury by weight such that they may have a mercury content of up to 2% by weight. This exemption is currently due to expire on the 1 October 2015, and a study was required in order to examine whether suitable mercury-free batteries were available.

The study comprised a review of literature on this issue, supplemented by a series of interviews undertaken with stakeholders – including manufacturers of button cells and hearing aids, and associations representing patients. The experience of manufacturers and patients in the United States, where a number of states have already banned mercury in button cells, was also considered. Key findings were:

  • Viable mercury free alternatives exist for all the commonly used hearing aid button cells using the mercury-free zinc air technology;
  • Significant product performance issues regarding mercury-free button cells were identified on patient forums and in reports by health care professionals. These appear to relate to the first generation of product issued in the US in 2010, and seem now to have been largely resolved; and
  • It is expected that initially the purchase price of mercury-free alternatives might be around 10% higher than standard batteries, but this differential is likely to decrease over time.

In addition to the environmental benefits associated with mercury elimination, the entry into force of the general ban on mercury in batteries is also expected to promote innovation within the mercury-free sector.