Auto Battery Fatwah. The Ayatollahs of Ewaste denounce battery takeback

E-waste too difficult and complicated? Not sure if exporting lead CRTs back to CRT manufacturers is a good idea? Let's see what anti-export people say about a simpler technology - lead battery recycling.

Once upon a time, auto batteries (which are 80% of the big heavy things made of lead) were mostly made from lead taken out of lead mines. The lead mines created lead dust and created the most toxic places in the USA. Lead mining was the bete noire of the environmental movement.

As an alternative to lead mining, environmentalists promoted lead acid battery recycling. We set up lead acid battery collections all over the USA, banned lead from disposal under RCRA. And it is considered a huge success. By the end of the 1990s, 85% of all lead batteries were recovered and accounted for, and as a feedstock they replaced lead mining. Between 65% and 75% of every lead output in the USA today, for batteries or bullets or hospital aprons, is made of recycled lead. The lead mines which bankrupted Superfund were on the outs, investment in recycling lead was in. Like laundromats, lead battery recycling becomes almost boring. AAA holds the biggest lead acid battery collections. Expect an editorial in Consumer Reports, perhaps.

So far, so good. If it had happened this year, it would be all over twitter.

Now like most metal mining, most metal refining, and most heavy manufacturing investments, production of big heavy items made of lead (like batteries) has gone overseas. That genie is out of the bottle. There is no UN program to keep Malaysia from mining, or from buying USA lead mine ore (or semi-refined ore). The most polluting industry on the planet - hard rock mining and refining - has gone to developing countries.

Well, at least those countries are really good at recycling. Even better than we are. They don't throw any metals away, ever. And the percentage of recycled lead in a new battery in China could be expected to be even higher than USA batteries.

Nope. Turns out Greenpeace and BAN.org say that sending a lead battery from the USA back to the manufacturer in Asia is illegal. We can only mine lead and send the mined lead there. That's legal, you see, because mined ore is a "commodity". Recycled ore, even if it's cleaner and environmentally preferred and unanimously supported as the best available technology for obtaining lead... that's "waste". So the Ayatollahs of Ewaste have gotten battery recycling back in the news.

Banning sale of recycled lead batteries back to lead battery manufacturers is a stupider idea than boycotting coffee to help poor coffee farmers. The scientists at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development tried to start a program to upgrade and modernize recycling in developing countries, so they wouldn't have to mine, but would improve their recycling practices.

It earned UNCTAD a place on BAN.org "Hall of Shame". Naughty, naughty UNCTAD.

Outcome? OCEAN MINING INVESTMENTS announced in Malaysia!!! Yay!!! And higher recycling costs for used batteries collected in the USA!! Brilliant!!!