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Environmental Benefits of Lead Batteries
Lead batteries and the environment are one of the environmental success stories of our lifetime. More than 99% of all battery lead and plastic is recycled, making the lead battery the recycled leader of all consumer products.
The life cycle of a lead battery follows a continuous, closed loop. The typical new lead-acid battery is made with 60% to 80% recycled lead and plastic. When a spent battery is collected and returned to a permitted recycler, its lead and plastic are reclaimed and directed to new battery manufacturing.
Lead battery safety efforts by the battery industry have led to the adoption of battery recycling laws in 38 states while five others have disposal bans. The lead battery industry works hard to steward its product from the beginning of its service life, through distribution, collection of old product, recycling and reclamation, and back to another service life. What other industry takes responsibility to meet stringent environmental regulations that protect the environment while providing a critical recycling service?
Keeping Lead Out of the Environment
More than 80% of lead produced in the United States is used in lead batteries. The battery industry takes pride in its advanced technology and common sense practices that dramatically reduce lead emissions from manufacturing and recycling facilities.
The battery industry is regulated by local, state and federal agencies, which inspect manufacturing and recycling plants to verify that the companies are meeting standards.
When taken together, all of these practices add up to a very responsible effort on the part of lead battery manufacturers and recyclers to keep even small amounts of lead out of the environment. Together, the efforts make a measurable difference.
Batteries and the Environment
When we think of products that have a high rate of recyclability, items like glass, plastic and newspaper usually come to mind. Most of us don’t realize that the same battery chemistry that starts your car, stores power to enhance renewable energy utilization, backs up critical data centers, and keeps the warehouse industry moving has one of the highest recycling rates on the planet.
Lead batteries are 99% recyclable. During the recycling process, a battery is separated into three distinct components. The lead is smelted and refined to be used in new batteries. The plastic case is recovered, cleaned and molded into new battery cases. The used acid is even recycled for reuse in battery products.
How Lead is Controlled at Battery Plants
Air Filters and Scrubbers
To keep microscopic particles of airborne lead emissions to a minimum, manufacturers and recyclers use high-efficiency air filters and wet scrubbers to filter plant air before it is released into the atmosphere. The filters are inspected and replaced regularly. The filters also are equipped with alarms, and the process is shut down or re-routed should a filter tear or break.
Manufacturers and recyclers capture and treat process water to keep lead out of streams and rivers. The water is tested before it is released to be certain it meets clean water standards.
At recycling plants, air monitors are installed at the perimeter of each property to make sure any lead in the air is below the allowable limit. The limit is 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air, averaged on a quarterly basis. This is an extremely conservative limit. To illustrate just how stringent this requirement is, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] says a worker inside a plant may be safe even if exposed to 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air every day.
Children can be exposed to lead when a parent who works at a lead plant carries dust home on shoes or work clothes, or in the worker's hair. OSHA regulations require workers in high lead-exposure areas of the plant to leave work clothes and shoes at the plant and to shower and wash their hair before going home. They also require workers in high lead areas of the plant to wear a respirator, a device that filters lead particles out of the air a worker breathes. Education programs train workers to wash thoroughly before eating or smoking during lunch or breaks, and to practice other habits that safeguard their health.
Plants have a regular program of exterior vacuuming or washing down paved areas and capturing and treating rainwater runoff. Vehicles that transport lead products are typically hosed down before leaving a facility so that any dust on tires or the vehicle body is not carried to public roads.
Commitment to Workers’ Protection
In June 2013, Battery Council International (North America) and EUROBAT (Europe, Middle East and Africa – EMEA) announced the update of their voluntary blood lead mitigation programs for employees of all their member companies, representing 90% of lead-based battery production in North America and EMEA. Read the full release here.