Lead Acid Battery Recycling


Creating A Safer And Environmentally Sustainable Used Lead Acid Battery Recycling Industry

Lead is one of the most recycled materials in the world and the main source of secondary lead is from lead acid battery recycling, with global recycling rates estimated at around 95%. However due to the toxic nature of lead, Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULAB’s) are an internationally controlled “Hazardous Waste” and designated “Dangerous Good” in relation to their storage, transportation and disposal. As such there are Government regulations, to help ensure their safe storage, transportation and disposal.

This article highlights how the Australian lead acid battery recycling industry is violating many of these regulations and the resultant impact and risks to the environment, health of employees and the general public. It also, unashamedly promotes how Battery Rescue’s battery collection service, through the use of the purposely built Battery Transport & Storage (BTS) Container, will ensure regulation compliance by virtually all participants in the lead acid battery recycling industry while reducing the environmental impact and health and safety risks to employees and the public.

The Dark Side Of Lead

Batteries are arguably the most important product of the industrialized world. Almost every car, bus, boat, plane, tractor, bulldozer, motor cycles and even golf buggies would not exist but for the humble battery. The computer industry relies heavily on batteries as back-up power supplies. Even wind generators and solar energy rely on batteries as part of their power management systems. Batteries are ubiquitous and have been an absolute boon for the modern industrialized world.Examples of lead acid battery applications

However, batteries have a dark side, 95% of all batteries in the world contain the commercially essential element lead, with 80% of all lead produced used in the production of batteries. Lead is the world number one toxic poison in regard to the number of humans affected. There are more people negatively affected with serious health impairments such as birth defects, retarded development, neurological problems and death than with any other toxic substance (The Lead Group www.lead.org.au).

This severe global problem was formally acknowledged in 1992 with the establishment of the Basel Convention that controls the international cross border transportation of used lead acid batteries. As a result Used Lead Acid Batteries (ULAB’s) are an internationally controlled “Hazardous Waste” and designated “Dangerous Good” in relation to their storage, transportation and disposal.

Australian Used Lead Acid Battery Recycling

Due to its fundamental properties and that lead based products are easily identifiable and economic to recycle, lead, is one of the most recycled materials in the world. Recycled lead provides 55% of the world’s lead use, with about 80% used in lead acid battery manufacture (International lead association http://www.ila-lead.org/). Globally lead acid battery recycling is a $24 Billion industry, per annum, while in Australia the industry is worth approximately $180 Million, per annum.

The estimated quantity of ULABs available for recycling in Australia in 2012-13 was around 137,000 tonnes (ABRI www.batteryrecycling.org.au Oct 2014), with approximately 82% or 110,000 tonnes being recycled. This compares poorly to the USA where used battery recycling rates are close to 100%. The remaining 18% are lost to illegal landfill, export or are just left in residential homes, farms, mine sites and indigenous communities, often due to the cost of collection and transport exceeding the value of the recycled lead, but also due to the current Australian regulatory framework and enforcement of regulations.

In Australia, the collection of Used Lead Acid Batteries for recycling (ULAB’s) is mostly carried out by the scrap metal industry. The scrap metal companies collect ULABs from a wide range of Used Battery Generators (UBGs), such as automotive, marine, mining and industrial companies & government organisations. Most often they will pay the UBG somewhere between $0.05 and $0.30/kg, but sometimes they will be provided the ULABs at no cost.

ULAB’s collected from the Used Battery Generators may pass through several scrap metal companies before ultimately being delivered to one of four lead acid battery recycling facilities, in Australia, three of which are located in NSWs and one in Queensland. The majority of batteries are sold to the reprocessing plants by the Large Scrap Metal Aggregators and Specialist Used Battery Collectors.Australian Lead Acid Battery Recycling

As regulated by the government, used batteries should be stacked on a wood or plastic pallet up to 3 layers high, separated with cardboard and then wrapped in plastic and strapped for transportation to the ULAB reprocessing plants (see figure 1). This is a time consuming, labour intensive and dangerous process, with employees being subjected to significant injury from accidents and health risks from acid burns and lead exposure. This non-bunded (open wooden slats) palletized method of transportation is not ideal for transportation as the batteries often leak acid onto the floor of the vehicles and can, due to shoddy wrapping and strapping, shift during transportation.

 

Unsafe and regulation non compliant transportation of used lead acid batteries

Figure 1 – Unsafe and regulation non compliant transportation of used lead acid batteries

 

Despite the limitations of this method, it is current “best practice” and in accordance with Government Regulations. Perhaps of greater concern is that this regulation compliant method of transporting used batteries is generally only used when transporting batteries interstate to the Lead Acid Battery Recycling Plants. For local battery pickups, which occur much more frequently, batteries are often transported loosely in the back of vehicles (see figure 2) or for volumes of a tonne or more they may be stacked on a wood pallet and wrapped in plastic (no strapping or dangerous good signage is applied).

Lead Acid Battery Transport Regulations

Figure 2 – Illegal loose transport of lead acid batteries in ute

Aggregation of the used batteries, by the Scrap Metal Aggregators and Specialist Used Battery Collectors, occurs in most major cities and regional centers, before the batteries are “wrapped and strapped” for transport to the reprocessing plants. Batteries collected, by the aggregators and specialist collectors, are often stored outdoors without them being stored under cover on a bunded pallet (see figure 3). The ULAB’s are often stockpiled loosely in an open yard, where they leak acid into the soil and break down due to exposure to the weather. The battery acid contains high levels of en-trained lead and other heavy metals at levels that are considered unsafe to humans and the environment. See our post “Australian public & environment unnecessarily exposed to toxic lead”.

 

 

Regulation non compliant storage of used lead acid batteries

Figure 3 – Regulation non compliant storage of used lead acid bat

The transportation costs of the “wrapped and strapped” batteries can be very significant with a full load of ULAB pallets, costing anywhere from $50/T to $200/T from major Australian cities and regional centers and even higher from more remote regional areas. This cost reduces the available margins for the entire supply chain involved in the lead acid battery recycling industry and coupled with the regulation requirements, results in it being “uncommercial” to collect some batteries in regional and remote areas.

Below is a summary of the role of the different types of companies involved in the used lead acid battery recycling industry and how many of them are failing to meet Government’s Dangerous Goods and Controlled Hazardous Waste compliance requirements;

Used Battery Generators (UBG’s) – are organisations that produce reasonable quantities of used batteries such as automotive, marine, mining and industrial companies & government organisations. The UBG’s store their ULAB’s on their premises until they are collected by the Scrap Metal and Battery Collection companies. They are usually paid for the batteries. The majority of UBG’s are storing their ULAB’s illegally, through failure to use a bunded storage container with appropriate dangerous goods / hazardous waste signage being displayed. Many of the batteries are also not being stored under cover.

Scrap Metal Traders – are generally small, one man illegal operators. The Traders, who are often un-licensed (a compulsory Controlled Waste License is required), collect ULAB’s from the UBG’s informally (often no invoice provided as required) with the use of some sort of vehicle. The vehicles (utilities, trailers and trucks) are often not “fit for purpose” and the heavy batteries are manually lifted onto the vehicle and stacked loosely, rather than correctly loaded onto pallets and secured with wrapping plastic and straps, as is required by law. The Scrap Metal Traders on sell the batteries to Scrap Metal Dealers, Aggregators and Specialist Used Battery Collectors.

Scrap Metal Dealers (SMD’s) – only collect ULAB’s because they are often an essential part of collecting the other scrap metals. They do not like handling ULABS, they are heavy and difficult to man-handle, exposing their staff to back injury and acid spills. ULAB’s are difficult to store in their premises and they are sometimes broken with exposed lead creating an additional health risk to their staff and the public. Most Scrap Metal Dealers on sell their batteries to Specialist Used Battery Collectors and Scrap Metal Aggregators because they do not want to have to wrap and strap the batteries on a wood pallet, suitable for transportation to the reprocessing plants.

Despite ULAB’S being a designated Dangerous Good and controlled Hazardous Waste, scrap metal dealers are often illegally transporting them mixed with other scrap metals and are often failing to store the batteries in their yards in a regulation compliant manner.

Specialist Used Battery Collectors (SUBC’s) – specialise in the collection of ULAB’s and hence are generally better equipped to handle their collection, transportation and storage. They will collect directly from UBG’s, but also from Scrap Metal Dealers and Traders. When the SUBC’s on sell their batteries to the reprocessing plants they will wrap and strap the batteries on a wood pallet, in order to transport the batteries in a regulation compliant manner.

Despite specialising in and being better equipped to collect batteries, the majority of SUBC’s are failing to transport the batteries in a compliant method when collecting locally from the UBG’s and SMD’s.

Scrap Metal Aggregators –These companies aggregate very high volumes of ULAB’s, however the majority of their batteries are obtained by buying them from SMD’s and Traders. Like the SUBC’s, they also do some collection direct from UBGs. The collected batteries are also often illegally stored outdoors and / or in a non bunded storage device.

Waste Management Companies (WMC’s) – manage the collection of ULAB’s in conjunction with Scrap Metal Dealers and Aggregators. Waste Management Companies are often effectively brokers. They offer medium and large companies a professional negotiating service where they endeavor to deliver them a cost saving and vetted collection companies to collect their waste in a regulation compliant manner. Some WMC’s will perform the collection and aggregation of ULAB’s themselves and on-sell the batteries to the reprocessing plants. These WMC’s are usually non compliant with Government regulations in the same way that Specialist Used Battery Collectors are.

Transport Providers – are the companies that transport the palletized, wrapped and strapped ULABs, often interstate, to the reprocessing plants. The majority don’t like transporting ULAB’s as the batteries often leak acid onto the floor of the vehicles and can, due to the weight of the batteries and shoddy wrapping and strapping, shift during transportation. The transport company is the one that has to wear the cost for the driver to stop and repack the batteries.

Battery Reprocessing Plants – are the companies that recycle the ULAB’s and sell the recycled lead. They will generally only accept batteries that have been transported in a regulation compliant way (i.e. wrapped and strapped on a wood pallet). They have to frequently deal with loads that have broken their packaging during transportation and are exposed to acid leaks when unloading and unpacking the palletized ULAB’s. They also have to deal with significant waste in the form of plastic wrap and strapping, as well as dry cell batteries that are “inadvertently” mixed up with the ULABs.

Go to this page a comprehensive summary of Australian lead acid battery regulations.

 


The Solution… Battery Rescue’s collection service

Central to Battery Rescue’s battery collection service is the Battery Transport & Storage (BTS) Container. The BTS Container, was purposely developed for the safe storage and transportation of used lead acid batteries.

The Battery Transport & Storage (BTS) Container Design

The BTS Container has been specifically designed for the regulation compliant loading, storage and transportation of used lead acid batteries. When full it will store approximately 60 automotive batteries with a maximum gross weight of 1.2 tonne. When full and the lid closed the Container is immediately ready for transportation. There is no need to insulate between battery layers, wrap and strap the ULAB’s, or label the Container.

It incorporates a unique feature of a Front Load configuration that allows the batteries to be ergonomically loaded in to the pallet and a Top Load configuration to enable the batteries to be unloaded, using a forklift attachment, at the Battery Reprocessor without having to manually handle the batteries. The BTS Container can then be collapsed to a “flat pack” state for efficient reverse transport logistics.

The Container also includes a bunded base, for acid spills, that can store up to 25 liters of free liquid and is weather resistant for outside storage and usage.

Battery Transport & Storage Container Features

 

Battery Rescue’s collection service entails;

1.  Battery Rescue provides the Used Battery Generator with a FREE BTS Container for the safe, convenient and regulation compliant storage of their used lead acid batteries.

2.  Once full, the Used Battery Generator contacts Battery Rescue to arrange collection. Within several days Battery Rescue will collect the full BTS Container and deliver an empty exchange Container.

3.  The full BTS Container’s are transported directly to an approved Used Lead Acid Battery Reprocessor for certified weighing and the Used Battery Generator receives  payment within 7 days.

The Battery Rescue collection service also includes;

  • Container Transport Insurance (no charge)
  • Container Maintenance (no charge)
  • Normal prices paid of between $0.15/kg – $0.40/kg for metro areas
  • Compulsory certified invoice provided along with payment within 7 days
  • Certified processes and reporting for Risk Mitigation

Closed Loop Lead Acid Battery Recycling


Benefits To The Lead Acid Battery Recycling Industry

We believe the Battery Transport & Storage (BTS) Container and Battery Rescue’s associated collection service will result in a positive “Paradigm Change” in the Australian battery recycling industry because it will eliminate many inefficient, current practices but also deliver a safer, more environmentally sustainable and regulation compliant solution.

Specific benefits to the ULAB recycling supply chain include;

Used Battery Generators

Battery Rescue’s collection service will provide the following benefits to the Used Battery Generators;

  1. Eliminating unsafe and illegal, storage of a Dangerous Good and Controlled Hazardous Waste.
  2. Reduces unnecessary and unsafe lifting / stacking of batteries by employees and by battery collection service providers.
  3. Delivers “Duty of Care” and “Chain of Responsibility”.
  4. Reduced corporate and personal contingent liability.
  5. Government Regulatory Compliance (OH&S and Environmental)
  6. ISO 1401 Environmental Accreditation
  7. Ease & Convenience

Transport Providers

The BTS Container will deliver a far safer vessel for transporting ULABs from the cities and major regional centers to the reprocessing plants. Unlike the wood pallet, the BTS Container includes a bunded base to capture any acid spills and the batteries will be fully enclosed preventing any shifting during transportation. Benefits for the transportation industry include;

  1. No load shifting/reloading on route and hence safer and reduced costs.
  2. Eliminates acid spills during transportation.
  3. Safer (more secure) and faster loading and unloading.
  4. Reduced human exposure to toxic (lead)
  5. Delivers “Duty of Care” and “Chain of Responsibility”.
  6. Reduced corporate and personal contingent liability.
  7. Government Regulatory Compliance (OH&S and Environmental)

Used Battery Reprocessing Plants

Battery Rescue will require the Battery Reprocessors to wash the BTS Container before returning the pallets. For a relatively modest cost, this can be automated by installing a Pallet Washer. We would also recommend the use of a forklift attachment to enable the ULAB’s to be unloaded directly from the Container and thus avoid the batteries having to be unloaded manually.  Benefits to the Battery Reprocessors include;

  1. Consistent battery supply at a sustainable price. The current inefficient collection process pushes up the price paid by the reprocessing plants for the batteries.
  2. Safer (more secure) and faster unloading of Containers and in some cases more efficient unloading of batteries from the Containers.
  3. Reduced waste disposal costs and environmental impact (no plastic wrap, straps, damaged wood pallets)
  4. Reduced acid spills and employee exposure to toxic lead.
  5. Delivers “Duty of Care” and “Chain of Responsibility”.
  6. Reduced corporate and personal contingent liability.
  7. Government Regulatory Compliance (OH&S and Environmental)

Government Regulators

While not directly involved in the battery recycling “supply chain”, as the regulator for the industry, the Government does have an interest and responsibility to ensure that current practices are meeting the requirements for the safe storage and transportation of a Dangerous Good and Controlled Hazardous Waste. Battery Rescue’s collection service, would deliver several benefits to the Government;

  1. Automatic compliance by the whole supply chain.
  2. Reduced compliance policing costs.
  3. Improved environmental outcomes by reducing unsafe storage practices and increasing recycling rates.
  4. Reduced human exposure to toxic lead.
  5. Delivers “Duty of Care” and “Chain of Responsibility”.
  6. Reduced departmental and personal contingent liability.

Conclusion

We believe the Battery Transport & Storage (BTS) Container and Battery Rescue’s collection service will deliver a safer, more environmentally sustainable and regulation compliant lead acid battery recycling industry to Australia. The current battery collection practices are not only unsafe and environmentally unsound, they are very inefficient. Driven by companies wanting to meet their “Duty of Care” and “Chain of Responsibility” obligations while reducing OHS risks and their impact on the environment, we think Battery Rescue’s collection service will be the catalyst that creates the “paradigm change” in how the lead acid battery recycling industry operates here in Australia and elsewhere.

 

 

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