A United Nations-backed international study group has called for a worldwide investigation into uncontrolled dumping of lithium-ion batteries amid health and safety fears.
The International Lead and Zinc Study Group’s (ILZSG) economic and environment committee has proposed the move to investigate “the safety implications of lithium batteries becoming mixed with lead-acid batteries at collecting sites prior to recycling”.
A spokesperson for the ILZSG— formed by the UN in 1959 to ensure transparency and tackle problems impacting the markets for lead and zinc— told BBB members highlighted their increasing concern over the issue.
The spokesperson said “there is next to nothing in terms of lithium recycling”, compared to environmental and safety controls in place for the recycling of lead-acid batteries.
“Some lithium batteries contain nickel and other materials, but it is still not completely clear how they are being disposed of safely or how the metals are being recovered,” the spokesperson said.
While the lead-acid industry has “more than a century of experience” in such matters, the spokesperson said ILZSG members were concerned that an international framework of measures controlling disposal and recycling of Li-on batteries should be in place because of the rising popularity of lithium in a range of applications.
The recycling conundrum was highlighted at last year’s International Battery Recycling Congress in Belgium, where experts said a number of factors had to be reached before a convincing closed-loop system for recycling lithium-ion batteries was ready to be rolled out.
Meanwhile, the ILZSG’s statistical and forecasting committee has said the global production of lead-acid batteries is set to fuel a projected rise in demand for refined lead metal of 5% to 11.15 million tonnes in 2017.
Demand for refined lead metal is expected to continue rising in 2018— by a further 0.9% to 11.82m tonnes, according to the statistical committee’s latest report.
The production of lead batteries is expected to be responsible for “more than 80%” of the increased demand, the ILZSG told BBB.
The report said China’s imports of refined lead metal in 2017 “are expected to exceed exports for the first time since 2012, with the extent of the difference forecast at 95,000 tonnes”. European usage will rise by 2.2% in 2017 but remain flat in 2018, the report added. In the US, increases of 1.1% and 1.8% are predicted in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Worldwide demand for refined zinc metal is forecast to increase by 0.7% to 13.93m tonnes in 2017 and then by 2.5% to 14.28m tonnes in 2018, according to the report.