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Industry advises on new UN guidelines for environmentally sound battery recycling

ILA’s Dr Steve Binks, Senior Director of Regulatory Affairs, has been in Geneva working with the UN and other industry experts tov develop updated guidelines for the responsible recycling of lead batteries. Here he explains why this is a key element of the lead and lead battery industries’ approach to material stewardship.

Experts from many countries have been meeting at the United Nations in Geneva to continue negotiations on updating important technical guidelines for the environmentally sound recycling of lead batteries. 

This important work is designed to help developing countries in particular to introduce legislation for managing battery recycling responsibly and ILA has been an important stakeholder in providing technical input since Basel guidelines were first introduced in 2003.

The existing guidelines are more than 20 years old and are in desperate need of updating to reflect current best environmental, health & safety practices employed in lead battery recycling and changes in international laws.  Delegates also discussed new guidelines that for the first time will provide advice for environmentally sound recycling of lithium ion and other battery technologies.

Although recycling of lithium-ion batteries is in its infancy and still faces challenges in producing battery grade raw material, lead batteries can be fully recycled at the end of their life and the materials re-used for new battery manufacturing. In many regions of the world this circular economy is a sustainability success story but recycling practices in many low and middle-income countries are the source of pollution that is causing adverse impacts on human health and the environment. 

The UN technical guidelines – produced under the Basel Convention that controls transboundary shipments and disposal of hazardous waste – are one of the most respected resources that policy makers and governments use to develop national laws.

On behalf of ILA I have been working with the Convention to input industry’s advice. 

There are proven technologies that can be adopted to manage the recycling of batteries in a way that protects human health and avoid environmental pollution. Recycling helps reduce the need for extracting virgin raw materials that are a finite resource and significantly reduces the carbon footprint of battery manufacturing processes.  We welcome the United Nations efforts to promote responsible battery recycling practices– as only by eliminating waste and pollution can the sustainability benefits of battery recycling be fully delivered. 

The Basel technical guidelines on lead and other battery chemistries will help governments, regulators and businesses make the most of the opportunities to build successful recycling operations. 

To deliver a low carbon future the world needs more battery energy storage and lead batteries have an important role to play in applications from transport to mobile phone networks, uninterruptable power supplies and the microgrids that are essential for delivering access to affordable energy in low and middle-income countries. Recycled batteries provide a significant opportunity for countries to generate important raw materials for re-use in manufacturing.

  • Following further discussions with stakeholders the updated Basel technical guidelines on environmentally sound recycling of lead batteries are expected to be agreed at the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (COP) in 2025 and the new lithium-ion (and other battery chemistry) guidelines at a later COP.