Promoting the Environmentally Sound Management of Waste Lead Acid Batteries (ULAB)

Approximately 85% of the total global consumption of lead is for the production of lead-acid batteries mainly used in motorized vehicles, storage of energy generated by photovoltaic cells and wind turbines, and for back-up power supplies (ILA, 2017). The increasing demand for motor vehicles as countries undergo economic development and growth in the use of renewable energy sources with the need for storage batteries is directly proportional to the increasing demand for lead-acid batteries (WHO, 2017). The batteries contain large amount of lead either as solid metal or lead-oxide powder. An average battery can contain up to 10 kilograms of lead. Recycled lead is a valuable commodity for many people in the developing world, making the recovery of car batteries (known as Used Lead-Acid Batteries or ULAB) a viable and profitable business which is practiced in both formal and informal sectors globally.

The main pathways of exposure to lead from recycling used lead acid batteries arise from environmental emissions, which occur at various stages in the improper recycling process. in many lower-income countries ULAB recycling and smelting operations are conducted in the open air, in densely populated urban areas, and often with few (if any) pollution controls. Inappropriate recycling operations release considerable amounts of lead particles and fumes emitted into the air, deposited onto soil, water bodies and other surfaces, with both environment and human health negative impacts.

Alternatives to Lead Acid Batteries

Lead-acid batteries are the most widely and commonly used rechargeable batteries in the automotive and industrial sector. Irrespective of the environmental challenges it poses, lead-acid batteries has remain ahead of its peers because of its cheap cost as compared to the expensive cost of Lithium ion and nickel cadmium batteries.

Furthermore, designing green and sustainable battery systems as alternatives to conventional means remains pertinent. However, factors such as life cycle, abundance of raw materials and electrode recycling must be taken into account as they pose their own pros and cons as can be seen in the document Alternatives to lead-acid batteries.

Lead Acid Batteries Status - Needs Assessment Survey

In response to the above resolutions and plans to undertake capacity-building activities and strengthen institutional capacity to address these challenges, UN Environment conducted a needs assessment survey.

A survey was developed and sent to 102 countries to ascertain countries status on used lead acid batteries, regulations in place, monitoring manufacturing, recycling and trade processes involved with used lead-acid batteries, as well as specific country needs to enhance and strengthen institutions to manage this issue in a more environmentally sustainable manner.

From the responses from completed surveys, results showed the following needs in regions:

  • Asia and the Pacific region expressed need for technical and capacity building as most required.
  • Latin American region expressed more needs for monitoring system, national strategy, technical and capacity building, legislation and regulation building.
  • Africa region expressed needs for monitoring system, public private partnership, technology, and legislation and regulation building.

Training Benchmarking Assessment Tool

UN Environment in collaboration with the International Lead Association (ILA) provides on-going training on the Benchmarking Assessment Tool of Lead, which enables regulators make a proper assessment on ULAB activities in all affected regions. Read more

Lead Acid Batteries Events

Updates on the Environmentally Sound Management of Used Lead Acid Batteries, Side event at BRS COPs 2019 - May 2019

Lead-Acid Batteries, Activities at UNEA 4 - March 2019

Regional Workshop on the Environmentally Sound Management of Used Lead Acid Batteries, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso - July 2017

Regional Workshop on the Environmentally Sound Management of Used Lead Acid Batteries, Guatemala City, Guatemala - February 2016

Workshop on Sound Management of Used Lead Acid Batteries, Osaka, Japan - November 2015