The lead industry has reacted strongly to a controversial news article in last Wednesday’s Guardian newspaper (25.10.2016) which highlighted the issue of the backyard battery recycling industry as one of the top 10 worst polluting problems in low and middle-income countries.
The World’s Worst Pollution Problems, published by NGOs Pure Earth and Green Cross Switzerland on Tuesday, reveals the top 10 most polluting industries in low and middle-income countries.
Mining, leather tanning, rubbish dumps and the dye industry are among the most polluting activities harming health and causing early deaths. The NGOs estimate 200 million people are at risk in the 50 nations they analysed.
Old lead-acid batteries are increasingly reused as some nations lack lead deposits and the rising number of cars is driving an upsurge in demand. However, in poorer nations the batteries are often opened with axes or hammers and the melting of the recovered lead takes places in homes.
As a result, lead is spread throughout homes and communities and the dumping of battery remnants pollutes local soil and water supplies. Children are particularly vulnerable to the lead pollution, which can profoundly affect their development. South East Asia is a hotspot for informal lead-acid battery recycling, but it also occurs in Africa and Central and South America.
The International Lead Association (ILA) said in a statement: “The high recycling rates of lead batteries has been one of the success stories in recent years – 99% of used lead batteries in Europe and North America are collected and recycled-and this supports the claim that lead based batteries can be a sustainable and environmentally responsible chemistry where an effective collection and recycling infrastructure is available.
“Unfortunately, it has long been recognised that there is a lack of proper standards, regulation and know-how in some emerging economies and informal recycling of lead batteries by cottage industries is acknowledged as a major problem that results in significant environmental pollution.”
The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Pure Earth and Green Cross Switzerland have produced several reports over recent years highlighting this issue, and the recent Guardian article reflects the release of the 2016 report— the conclusions of which have not changed from previous editions.
The ILA has for many years run an improvement programme on risk management and responsible care for the recycling industry in Africa, South-East Asia and South America, often in partnership with Pure Earth and national governments and NGOS such as the Basel Secretariat and the United Nations Environment Programme with very positive results for local communities.
As well as transferring know-how and knowledge to emerging economies our programme also has a goal to support national authorities to design and implement policies that encourage responsible recycling by facilities adopting environmentally sound management and eliminating informal, backyard recycling.
Through ILA the lead recycling industry in the developed world takes its role as a promoter of responsible care seriously and will continue to work with others such as Pure Earth to try to ensure that the great success stories of closed loop recycling of lead batteries is replicated in other regions.