This generation is more aware than any before, of the importance, of working towards a more sustainable future. We have a greater understanding of the choices we make and the impact this has on the environment. Greener, more environmentally friendly options are being encouraged when it comes to energy, vehicles, and the way we live.
Recycling is by no means a new concept, many of us try and do our part by recycling the materials we use including, cardboard, paper, plastics, and batteries. Recycling is an important method to reduce waste, as it allows us to reuse minerals and materials that we have already made the effort to extract from Earth. It allows us to take something old and manufacture it into something new. However, once we drop these materials off at the recycling centres what happens? How are these materials broken down to be eventually re-used?
Used batteries are sent to recycling centres to be sorted into the different types of materials they contain. For example, lithium-ion, zinc, and nickel cadmium. Separating them by materials ensures more of the material can be recovered.
- Alkaline/zinc batteries are shredded to separate the paper, plastics, and metal from the black core mass.
- Nickel and lithium batteries are processed at high temperatures in a thermal vacuum, where the metals are evaporated and condensed.
- Lead batteries are treated in the UK by smelters that process end-of-life car batteries. The batteries are crushed to recover the acid, plastic, and metal. The lead is recovered in lingots (a piece of cast metal).
Standard batteries are often made from metals and chemicals, including lead and acid (which can be found in gasoline and diesel vehicles), zinc, carbon, nickel, cadmium. Going forward limiting our reliance on these types of batteries will allow us to focus on a greener future, as fossil fuels are not a sustainable source of energy.
Lithium tends to be used for rechargeable batteries such as laptops, phones, and now an increased use for electric vehicles. Even though they are reusable batteries, they do have a shelf life and it is becoming an increasing concern about what should be done with them once they have served their purpose and how to responsibly dispose of them.
Electric vehicles use lithium batteries as they are rechargeable. As they continue to grow in popularity, this also increases the need for the materials required to manufacture the batteries. So, it would seem logical to recycle the batteries once they no longer serve their purpose and extract as much of the material as possible. Unfortunately, it is thought that only 5% of the world’s lithium batteries are recycled globally, resulting in dramatic environmental implications.
However, there may be a solution. Once an EV battery loses its ability to power a vehicle it can instead be used to power a home or building by contributing to a battery storage system. If you power your home with renewable energy such as wind or solar, you could pair it with an EV battery. The battery stores energy and it can be used to heat up your home, which saves on your bills and the amount of energy you use from the grid. This is a fantastic way to repurpose the batteries and encourage more homeowners to use renewable energy to heat up their homes. While only half of the materials in an EV battery pack are currently recycled. It is expected as the popularity of EV’s increases car manufacturers will look to improve this.
Despite the option to recycle, every year millions of batteries are still thrown away and disposed of in landfills, where they decompose. The materials inside the batteries are then safely extracted to be used in other sectors and goods. However, because of decomposing, the chemical contents may leak which results in polluting the land and water.
We rely on our governments to ensure responsible measures are put in place and adhered to. There is a global impact when it comes to the global warming crisis. This is why, together, we must unite to make the right choices when it comes to sustainability.
It’s important that when we recycle and make the effort to take them to recycling sites, so batteries don’t just end up in landfills and dumpsites. It also makes a huge difference when recycling takes place at a facility that is local to the country you reside in as it reduces C02 emissions drastically, as they don’t need to be transported overseas. Unfortunately, we know that the UK sends abroad an equivalent of ‘three and a half Olympic swimming pools every day overseas.
If this article has left you feeling unsure of what you should do when it comes to recycling, will it make a difference if the governments or large companies aren’t responsibly clearing waste? Then be reassured that by recycling you are fulfilling your part and that’s all you can do. Reduce your single-use batteries, instead choose rechargeable and reusable ones when you can.
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