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How are batteries recycled?

How are batteries recycled? />

09/07/2020

Recycling has become an important responsibility as our waste continues to harm the environment in different ways. Since batteries form a large part of our everyday usage, we generate large piles of disposed batteries every year.

Thankfully, a culture of recycling batteries has started to develop across the world.

South Africa is no different in this regard as batteries are now being recycled regularly. According to some reports, around 90% of the batteries in South Africa are recycled.  However, many people question the use of recycled batteries. They wonder whether the recycled batteries are reused to make other batteries, or they are used to make other products.

To address this concern, BPZ would like to create awareness about it to perpetuate this culture of recycling.

Lead acid batteries are among the most common types of batteries. When it comes to recycling them, they are broken down using a hammer mill and the different components are separated into different streams.

Here is what is done with some of the components:

  • The plastic pieces from the body are washed and dried first and then they are moved to a plastic recycler. There, the plastic pieces are melted and shaped into small pellets. These pellets are eventually reused to make bodies of batteries.
  • The lead in the batteries is cleaned and impurities are removed by heating. The lead is placed in molds and allowed to cool so that it can be reused in batteries again.
  • The sulphuric acid is either neutralized to produce water or it is converted into sodium sulphate which is used in the glass, detergent, and textile industry.

Another common form of batteries is the everyday alkaline batteries such as AA and AAA. They are used in our homes for a multitude of purposes and are a prominent source of electrical waste. They too can be recycled. The battery is broken down mechanically and divided into components such as zinc, steel, and manganese concentrate. These materials are sold in the market to cover some of the costs for recycling alkaline batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are readily found in our homes as they are the battery of choice for laptops and smartphones. The process for recycling them is conducted in a specialized chamber. The chamber is maintained at room temperature and is kept oxygen-free. The battery itself is broken down mechanically and separated into 3 broad categories of components. These include cobalt and lithium salt concentrate, copper and aluminum and stainless steel. All of these products are resold in the market so that they can be used as raw materials for the manufacturing of different products.

By looking at these 3 common types of batteries, we learn that components extracted by recycling these batteries are not only used to produce other batteries but are also used for the production of other items as well. Recycling batteries can be a resource-intensive task, but it is essential for minimizing the amount of waste and increasing the utilization of the components that were used to make these batteries in the first place.