The U.S. lead battery industry, with its established circular infrastructure, is a model for other countries and battery chemistries in how to responsibly source, use, reuse and manage materials. The industry is committed to working with others to end informal battery recycling in other parts of the world.
With a recycling rate of 99%, lead batteries are the most recycled consumer product in the U.S. The U.S. lead battery industry’s commitment to safe and sustainable recycling methods ensures that lead batteries are an essential part of an energy storage mix to achieve a cleaner, greener future.
Lead batteries are safely manufactured and recycled through a state-of-the-art “closed-loop” process which means that 130 million lead batteries are recycled every year and kept from landfills. It is the world’s most successful example of a circular economy.
In 2014, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that the recycling rate of lead batteries exceeded that of other more well-known recycled products such as newspapers (71.2%), aluminum cans (54.9%), tires (40.2%), glass containers (33.2%), PET bottles and more. This high recycling rate contributes to the fact that on average, a new lead battery is comprised of more than 80% recycled material.
Lead batteries, with their 99% recycling rate, are infinitely recyclable, especially when compared to the fewer than 5% recycling rate of lithium-ion batteries. The lead battery industry’s commitment to efficient recycling methods ensures that lead batteries are an essential part of an energy storage mix to achieve a cleaner, greener future.
Recycling and the Circular Economy
The state-of-the-art closed-loop process for recycling lead batteries that ensures lead batteries’ high rate of recycling has been recognized by the World Economic Forum and MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics as the world’s most successful example of a circular economy.
During the recycling process, the battery is broken down into its primary components: lead, plastic and acid, which are separated for reuse. The lead from spent batteries is melted, refined and poured into molds to create ingots (lead bricks) used to build new batteries. The plastic cover and case of a spent lead battery are crushed, cleaned, melted and formed into pellets to make new battery covers and cases. Spent acid is either recycled and reused in batteries, neutralized into water or converted into sodium sulfate, an odorless powder used in laundry detergents, textiles and glass.
After the recycling process is complete, materials are ready for reuse. On average, a new lead battery is comprised of over 80% recycled material and the lead from these batteries can be infinitely recycled with no loss of performance. That, coupled with a recycling rate of nearly 100%, greatly reduces the use of virgin materials, a key goal of the circular economy, which reduces energy and greenhouse gas emissions.
A steady supply of recycled lead battery components allows lead battery manufacturers to use safe, sustainable practices to make new batteries. A nation-wide infrastructure, high recycling awareness and the economic value inherent in lead battery components ensures consumers and industries return spent lead batteries to the collection system which in turn supplies manufacturers with a reliable stream of materials for reuse.