Infinite Recycling and Beyond

Lead batteries reign as the most recycled consumer product in the U.S. today and the most sustainable battery technology; 99% of lead batteries are safely recycled in an established, coast-to-coast network of advanced recycling facilities.

Lead Batteries Set the Standard for Recycling

Bridging the old to new is the lead battery industry’s specialty. Lead battery manufacturers design lead batteries for recycling, making them the most recycled consumer product in America (aluminum cans are second), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That’s made lead batteries the gold standard in how to create a highly successful, closed-loop, domestic circular economy – one where no other industry can compare.

The lead battery industry has optimized the fact that lead in lead batteries can be infinitely recycled without any loss of quality or performance. At their end of life, lead batteries are separated into three key components – all of which are 100% recyclable – lead, plastic and acid. They are then turned into the valuable raw materials U.S. manufacturers need to create new lead batteries and restart the cycle of use-recycle-remanufacture.

Chart showing recycling rates in the U.S.
Graphic of the lead battery circular economy model

A Closed-Loop System of Success

The lead battery success story is grounded in the industry’s nationwide lead battery and recycling infrastructure designed to recycle, reuse and remanufacture the primary components of a battery: plastic, acid and lead. The closed-loop system is not only a model of recycling, but the world’s most successful example of a circular economy, as noted by the World Economic Forum and MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics. That success equates as:

  • Nearly 100% of spent lead batteries in the U.S. are recycled.
  • More than 160 million lead batteries are recycled in the U.S. every year and kept from landfills.
  • A new lead battery is typically comprised of 80% recycled material, and the lead in lead batteries is infinitely recyclable.
  • Lead batteries are manufactured primarily from domestically sourced materials, which contributes to our national security.
Technician working inside East Penn facility
Shown above is an innovative closed-loop wastewater recycling facility at East Penn Manufacturing Company in Lyon Station, Pennsylvania.

Innovative Recycling and Environmental Practices

Innovative recycling facilities have been developed to recycle virtually 100% of a lead battery’s components, and industry-supported regulation ensures that these products are returned to appropriate locations for reuse. This applies for the newer advancements in lead battery technology.

Newer battery technologies have a more difficult time achieving the recycling advances and developing reclamation processes comparable to those established by the lead battery industry. The innovative processes for recycling lead batteries and the facilities that support them have progressively advanced over the years to become one of the greatest recycling success stories in the global marketplace.

Along with innovative recycling and environmental practices, shipping of both flooded and sealed lead batteries has been managed safely and efficiently during the long history of lead battery use. Shippers of non-spillable lead batteries are provided exceptions to regulations when proper testing and marking requirements are met, making shipping even more efficient yet just as safe. Collection, transportation and handling of spent lead batteries are well defined and regulated by the US government and by most states, often following the model legislation provided by BCI. Lead battery lead has long been recycled safely with a sustained recycling rate of 99%.

Promoting Responsible Lead Battery Recycling

The U.S. lead battery industry, with its established circular infrastructure, is a model for other countries and battery energy storage 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.

John Howes

The Energy Storage Grand Challenge report….reflects growing recognition from DOE and others that lead batteries are among important energy storage technologies that require investment to secure America’s global leadership on technological innovation and a green economy infrastructure.

John Howes, Principal, Redland Energy Group