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Lead acid batteries – a recycling success story

Lead acid batteries – a recycling success story

When you think of the most commonly recycled products in the world, things like cans, glass and newspaper might spring to mind. However, it is a little known fact that something as seemingly unrecyclable as a lead acid battery is actually among the most recycled products globally.

Managing Director of First National Battery, Russell Bezuidenhout says, “In South Africa, more than 90% of scrap lead acid batteries are recycled. That’s compared to just 70% of beverage cans, 30% of plastics and just 26% of glass bottles.”

This high rate of recycling is primarily due to the efforts of battery manufacturers that invest in collecting and properly recycling lead acid batteries across the country. This year, First National Battery established a dedicated recycling division, Scrap Battery, to facilitate this process.

Scrap Battery collects used lead acid batteries from over 120 Battery Centre outlets and other pick up points around the country on a regular basis. The organisation also offers a free collection service for high volumes of used lead acid batteries and pays a highly competitive rate for this scrap.

“There are many compelling reasons for recycling lead acid batteries including the conservation of natural resources, saving energy in the production process, protecting the environment from potentially harmful chemicals and creating jobs in the process,” says Bezuidenhout.

The recycling process

First National Battery has invested in establishing its own full-fledged recycling facility in Benoni. This facility includes a battery breaker, an effluent plant that treats the acid, a lead smelter, a blending kettle to produce specialised alloys and scrubbers to control environmental emissions. Recently a plastic reprocessing plant has been commissioned, thereby completing the entire reprocessing cycle.

The battery recycling process used by Scrap Battery, together with First National Battery is as follows

  1. Scrap Battery collects used lead acid batteries through its collection network in South Africa.
  2. The collected batteries are transported to the smelter at the First National Battery recycling facility in Benoni.
  3. On arrival, the batteries are processed through a battery breaker that separates the lead, plastic components and acid.
  4. The acid is then neutralised and processed through the effluent plant before being disposed of in accordance with strict environmental regulations.
  5. The plastic components are washed and converted into pellets to be re-used in the manufacture of new battery containers and covers by First National Battery.
  6. The battery plates, terminals and other lead pieces are stockpiled for smelting, refining and blending with other materials to produce lead alloys for new batteries.
  7. Elements of the scrapped batteries that can’t be reclaimed are disposed of in a compressed cake form in a Class 1 dump.

Coinciding with the launch of Scrap Battery, a new interactive website www.scrapbattery.co.za has been launched to brings the battery recycling process to life. “Most people have no idea what happens to their car battery after it is replaced,” says Bezuidenhout. “The new website serves as both an educational platform and awareness tool.”

“We should never take our natural resources for granted – no matter how abundant they may seem, they are finite and must be conserved. So as a local manufacturer, we take our responsibility to protect the environment and ensure the sustainability of our operations very seriously,” concludes Bezuidenhout.

To find out exactly where to drop off your used lead acid battery or to see if you are eligible for free collection service, call Scrap Battery toll-free on 0800 333 462.