How Car Battery Recycling Could Be Even Better

Which items in the waste stream are the most commonly recycled? Ten percent of plastic, 28 percent of glass, 49 percent of aluminum cans and 55 percent of paper is recycled. But the recycling award for the product with the highest recycling rate goes to … the car battery, with a recycling rate of 98 to 99 percent.

Lead-acid batteries are widely used across the globe in cars, trucks, boats, trains and recreational vehicles, and for emergency power in air traffic control towers, hospitals and railroad crossings. An estimated 6 million tons of lead is consumed each year globally, with three-quarters going into the manufacturing of lead-acid batteries. Once the lead plates within these rechargeable batteries deteriorate, the battery can no longer adequately store energy and is considered hazardous waste.

The recycling process includes breaking down the battery into numerous little pieces. The plastic is then extruded, and the liquid is siphoned off. The lead is smeltered and turned into ingots, a mass of metal.

A Recycling Success Story

Ninety-eight percent of the actual battery is recycled. In fact, the typical new lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic, according to Battery Council International.

What makes car batteries a recycling success story? Here are some of the factors:

  • Legislation: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Battery Act helps promote high recovery rates
  • Consumer incentives: Many auto retailers charge a deposit to encourage car battery recycling; AutoZone even offers a $10 gift card for recycling a spent car battery
  • Economics: There are roughly 20 pounds of lead contained in each battery, which makes it worthwhile to salvage
  • Steady supply: With more than 1 billion vehicles on the road across the globe, there’s a constant stream of batteries in need of recycling

Recovering lead from batteries is relatively easy and requires less energy than obtaining it from virgin sources. High recycling rates for lead-acid batteries reduces the need to mine new lead and keeps batteries from being dumped.

The Less-Impressive Side of Car Battery Recycling

Recycled lead is a valuable commodity, creating a lucrative business opportunity throughout the world. However, it’s not a simple process, and it needs to be done properly to avoid environmental and health issues. With the rise in demand for automobiles across the world, it is important to create a safe recycling infrastructure.

Lead-acid batteries from many developed countries are commonly shipped to the developing world for recycling. Some experts estimate that one in five lead-acid batteries from the U.S. are recycled in Mexico, where many are not safely handled. Sadly, lead poisoning from improperly recycled car batteries has affected more than 12 million people, according to the Blacksmith Institute.

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