Most of our natural resources are finite. That is why it is a good practice to recycle whatever resources we can so that we can continue to utilise them for our benefit in the future.
The car battery is no different in this regard and the same principle of recycling can be applied to it as well.
In South Africa, there is a rich culture of recycling batteries. Every year, thousands of car batteries are recycled, and the materials extracted from them are used for different purposes.
To preserve and perpetuate this culture, BPZ aims to create awareness among car users regarding the practice of recycling their old car batteries.
In this article, we will explore some of the different aspects of recycling batteries to answer as many queries on this topic as possible.
The most common question that kick starts the battery recycling discussion is when to recycle the battery. Common sense dictates that it should be done once the battery cannot perform its normal operations any longer.
However, some people would define the end of a car battery's life in different ways. They may use time as an estimate i.e. If the car battery is 2-3 years old, it has reached the end of its useful life regardless of its performance. While others may focus purely on the battery's performance. Many would note and observe symptoms, like the car taking multiple attempts to start in the mornings or the headlights being dimmer than usual. These are sometimes key indicators to conclude that a battery is no longer functioning properly and needs to be replaced.
That said, while such viewpoints are quite common, there is a more standardised and widely accepted definition of a battery's endpoint. It is said that once a battery drops to 80% of its rated capacity then it has somewhat reached the end of its useful life. Therefore, we recommend that our customers perform regular battery checkups to ensure that their car batteries are always in peak working order. If it is observed that a car battery has dropped below 80% of its rated capacity, then it may be time to replace and then ultimately recycle the battery.
How to recycle the battery?
Many people like to be hands-on and opt for the "do it yourself" approach when it comes to recycling. While this may work with other everyday items and products, it is not a good idea to even attempt recycling a car battery yourself. The main reasons being the health and environmental risks involved when recycling, is not done professionally. Especially in the case of lead acid batteries. Should one break up and smelt lead often and without the correct equipment, hazardous side effects such as lead poisoning are a reality.
For most cars, lead-acid batteries are used. It is risky to try and dismantle it yourself because it is filled with various hazardous materials.
The plates of the battery are made of lead, a poisonous metal. The battery fluid or electrolyte is sulphuric acid which is highly corrosive and causes burning if it comes in direct contact with the skin.
Moreover, once the battery is opened, it may release fumes of sulphuric acid that can cause irritation and harm if inhaled.
Considering these facts, one must never attempt to recycle a car battery on one’s own and we urge all our clients to drop their old car batteries with us to facilitate the recycling process.
There are also multiple recycling centers across the country at different locations if you are not close to a BatteryPower Zone. Perform a simple google search to look them up, locate the nearest one and simply drop your battery off there. If for some reason you cannot travel, you can get in touch with a BPZ, we might be able to pick the battery up from your home, depending on your location.
This may suit more people as lead-acid batteries can be heavy. There are some auto stores like us that work in partnership with these recycling centers to make battery recycling a simple and easy task for consumers to do.
How are batteries recycled?
Once the batteries reach these recycling centers, one may wonder about the actual process of recycling. Furthermore, there may be some curiosity regarding the usage of the materials extracted from recycled batteries.
The recycling process starts with breaking the battery down at a hammering mill. Once the battery is broken down into pieces, the acid and any other fluids are drawn out and the rest of the material is placed in a vat.
Lead and other heavy materials sink to the bottom while the plastic from the case floats to the top. This separates the materials that are then sent to different recycling stations.
The plastics from the battery are then washed, cleaned, and dried. They are then heated and melted down to a semi-liquid state. Once that is done, the plastic is placed in molds and is allowed to cool down so that they can later be turned into small plastic pellets. These pellets are then primarily used to manufacture new battery cases.
The lead in the battery is given a similar treatment as well. The lead oxide and other lead-based parts are melted down in a furnace. The liquid is poured in molds and then allowed to cool. The impurities naturally float to the top of the liquid and are removed. Once the lead has cooled completely, it is sent back to the battery manufacturers who re-use the lead to creating new batteries.
The sulphuric acid from the battery is normally used in 2 ways. It can either undergo a neutralisation chemical reaction that turns it back to water or it can be used to form sodium sulphate, a compound used in the detergent industry.
Overall, over 90% of the recycled parts of lead-acid batteries are reused to make new batteries. Recycling your old batteries goes a long way to helping the environment and battery manufactures.