The Useful Natural Element
Before the scientific advancements of the 20th century revealed its potent toxicity - lead was widely used in a variety of products. All these uses have now been banned, replaced or discouraged as lead is known to be detrimental to health, particularly that of children. It is teratogenic and carcinogenic. Nonetheless, lead is still widely used – Lead Acid Batteries, Rolled Extrusions, Pipes, Pigments, Cable Sheathing, Ammunition, Alloys (bearings, solder, antifriction metals and type metal), Weights for Scuba Diving, Store Corrosive Liquids, in Architecture, for Roofing and in Stained Glass Windows. Globally, close to 85% of lead is used in the production of lead batteries, which is 100% recoverable for recycling.
Lead: the Pathway to a Low Carbon Future
Obtained chiefly from the mineral galena by a roasting process, Lead can be infinitely recycled with no loss of performance or slightest of diminution in quality, making it the perfect material for the circular economy. Recycled lead is no different from newly-sourced metal and can often be reused without limits. No other metal has such an impressive end-of-life recycling rate.
In 2020, about 12.0 million tonnes of refined lead was produced from primary and secondary sources. Recycled lead is also referred as secondary lead. More than 80% of produced lead was used in lead-acid batteries, which remains the key sources for lead recovery. China dominates in terms of lead consumption each year followed by Europe and the U.S.
Lead-based batteries are a very important component of over a billion diesel and petrol vehicles existing globally. Such batteries are also used in several critical stationary applications such as providing backup power for telecommunication systems. The lead in the batteries is fully recyclable. According to the International Lead Association, lead batteries are “the world’s most recycled consumer product” and its value and demand as a recycled material are very high. The greater part of the recycled lead is sold back to the battery industry, which uses it to make new batteries. Given that lead-acid batteries are essential for cars to operate, the systematic and responsible recycling of lead is a priority.
In fact, more lead is now produced through recycling than mining. Thanks to recycling, we barely mine lead any more. More than 2 billion tonnes of lead ores still in the ground. According to The International Lead and Zinc Study Group (ILZSG) production of refined lead metal from recycled raw material accounted for 59.8 percent of global output in 2017. As on April 2021, total lead mine production was 394.0, metal production 1009.1 and metal usage 1002.2 (000 tonnes).
The use of recycled lead in the production of new products is highly energy efficient. Recycled lead production takes only 35 to 40 percent of the energy necessary to produce primary lead from ore. Its fundamental properties make it easily identifiable and cost-effective to collect and recycle. More than 50 percent of lead used in the production of new lead products around the world is sourced from recycled lead. According to EUROBAT and Battery Council International (BCI), more than 6 million tons of it collected for reuse each year. All lead produced in the U.S. and 74% of lead produced in Europe comes from recycled stock. The current lead recycling rate in North America and Europe is nearly 100 percent.
Recovering and recycling lead has great environmental advantages. Lead recycling reduces the release of lead to the environment and conserves natural resources. On the flip side, the lead battery is a hazardous waste. Its disposal poses both health and environmental threats. It can be extremely toxic if not handled in the right way during smelting and recovery. With little regulation, the result is often lethal. We tend to think of recycling as an unalloyed good thing. But not the way it is done with lead in batteries.
Environmental Rules Governing Lead Recycling Plants Have Tightened
U.S. EPA regulations on lead in paint, dust and soil. The disposal of batteries is now a highly regulated area, with tight controls stipulating their separation from the household waste stream and landfill sites.
UK legislation also requires manufacturers and distributors to ensure batteries are collected and reused wherever possible, with failure to comply potentially resulting in financial penalties. Recyclable batteries should be taken to an Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF) and/or Approved Battery Treatment Operator (ABTO). Only these organisations are licensed to recover, treat and recycle waste electronics. Similarly, specialist scrap metal dealers must prove their compliance and competence with EU Waste Regulations by obtaining a Certificate of Conformity, in addition to their license issued by the local government. Any company trading without these certifications could, if discovered, face fines of up to £5,000.
China, India and some other countries already have general laws requiring lead battery manufacturers to take back used batteries for recycling. However, these are largely ineffective because they don’t provide financial incentives and do not impose penalties for noncompliance.
Recycle Now is the national recycling campaign for England, supported and funded by Government, managed by WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme). WRAP helps individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more, making better use of resources and helping to tackle climate change.
OK International (Occupational Knowledge International) in coordination with Fronteras Comunes works to build capacity in developing countries to identify, monitor, and mitigate environmental and occupational exposures to hazardous materials in order to protect public health and the environment. The organization provides technical assistance through partnerships, training, and environmental audit and certification programs, with a commitment to public health tenets, scientific principles and corporate responsibility.
Lead Recycling Companies
AkkuSer, Aqua Metals Inc., Boliden, Clarios, Doe Run's, Duesenfeld, ECOBAT Technologies, ENERSYS, EXIDE INDUSTRIES LTD., Gianni Mori Engineering S.r.l. (GME), Gravita Group, Johnson Controls, Li-Cycle, MedClean Management Solutions, Inc., NAWA Technologies, Pagrik Ethiopia P.L.C., Recuperación Ecológica de Baterías, S.L. (Recobat), STC srl, San Lan Technologies Co. Ltd,.
Key Elements Included In The Study: Global Recycled Lead Market
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