Recycling car batteries

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‘This is probably one of the main reasons why battery disposal is so neglected — because people do not see the toxic substances seep out. And if it does not have a clear presentation, then it is not easily measured. What can be measured, however, are the years of life lost as a healthy individual, due to an illness or disability caused by lead toxicity.’

By Angel Rivero

A CAR BATTERY is an essential part of a working automobile. It converts chemical energy into electrical energy, and that in turn provides the zap to power the electronics and starter of your vehicle. And depending on your type of car battery and the actual usage, a car battery may remain useful anywhere from nine months to a few years.

The tricky part about car batteries though, is that most of them are wet-cell ones that use lead and sulfuric acid — highly toxic substances that are harmful both to living creatures and the environment. And while people often only think of how to replace their car batteries after they stop working properly, I reckon that many motorists are oblivious about how harmful these used batteries may become. They are after all, classified as “hazardous waste.”

It is difficult to imagine the danger, as the poison itself is hard to track down. After all, it is a lord of disguise. Lead can stick to the ground, linger as vapor (during lead smelting), run in the water, remain in the bodies of fish, or leech into crops that grow out of lead-infected soil. In fact, this is probably one of the main reasons why battery disposal is so neglected — because people do not see the toxic substances seep out. And if it does not have a clear presentation, then it is not easily measured. What can be measured, however, are the years of life lost as a healthy individual, due to an illness or disability caused by lead toxicity.

How then, must used car batteries be handled? First, they must be respected and regarded as dangerous, hazardous waste. As such, they must either be brought to a proper, hazardous waste recycling center, or traded-in for a new car battery. The latter is the easier, more cost-effective option as trading-in your old car battery will usually shave a few extra hundred pesos off the purchase price of a brand-new one. Do not consider storing multiple car batteries in your home, as toxic substances may eventually leak out and pollute your surroundings. Please also do not throw them in your regular trash bins either, as toxic substances may contaminate your local garbage collectors and may be accidentally freed into the environment.

Does 100% of the car battery get recycled? Unfortunately not. But when recycling is properly implemented, the typical, new lead-acid car battery will carry anywhere from 60% to 80% recycled lead and plastic.

Furthermore, the Philippines has a law (RA 6969) that governs the proper collection and disposal of such hazardous waste. Proper enforcement, however, has always been the challenge. Used lead-acid batteries continue to get intercepted by unauthorized junk shops to fuel their backyard “battery recycling” practices wherein the battery packs are crudely smashed by hand to open them — inevitably freeing some lead and sulfuric acid into the surroundings — with these eventually finding their way into canals and rivers after major flooding. More and more amounts of lead are carelessly freed and absorbed into the environment. Laborers who have direct exposure to the lead and other chemicals during handling, without the proper safety equipment, are often the hardest hit.

The best thing we can do? Again, used car batteries are hazardous waste. Handle them with care and do not have a second thought about making sure they get to proper recycling facilities. Do not sell used batteries to the highest bidder. Turn them over to responsible and licensed hazardous waste collectors.





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