RLG Impact Series: Closing Material Loops
25 February 2021

RLG Impact Series: Closing Material Loops

In Germany, automotive workshops generate up to 65 material fractions, ranging from scrap metal, plastic, and paper to hazardous and critical waste such as lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries, waste oil, and brake fluid.

Reverse logistics is a key step to overcome the challenges of coordinating the complex interplay of these various fraction types, market participants, and compliance with regulatory requirements.

Managing returns in a circular fashion requires not only the collection and transport of products, components, and materials but also value-added activities such as refurbishing, sorting, testing, and recycling which make reverse logistics a major enabler for closed material loops and accelerating the scale-up of the circular economy.

 

Closing the Loop of Lead-acid Batteries

Annually, batteries and accumulators from the automotive industry account for around 60 percent of global lead demand, highlighting workshops and recycling centers as valuable sources for secondary lead. Lead consumption has remained consistently high over the past years, as lead-acid batteries are considered to be a robust and comparatively inexpensive form of electricity storage.

However, lead is classified as highly poisoning, difficult to mine, and complicated to dispose of with the potential to cause severe damage to humans and nature. If not properly extracted and disposed of, by-products and toxic matter can leach into the soil, air, and water around lead mines and landfills. Keeping lead in the economic cycle as long as possible by recycling lead-acid batteries can reduce these negative impacts.

Refined secondary lead has further benefits compared to crude lead. First, the erosion rate of lead is extremely low, which means that the product cycle can be repeated almost indefinitely. Furthermore, lead mining is complex and expensive, as most ores contain a low percentage of lead (rich ores have a typical content of 3–8%). Consequently, high volumes of ore and energy are needed for the extraction of primary lead. In addition, lead deposits in Central Europe are largely depleted, making long transport routes for crude lead necessary. All in all, secondary lead is a highly valuable and useful heavy metal from both an environmental and economic perspective.

RLG establishes and coordinates central networks to return the lead from lead-acid batteries to the economic cycle as efficiently as possible. Only audited and certified partners are involved throughout the entire cycle for safe and reliable processes. On behalf of our customers, we recycled tens of thousands of tons of lead accumulators and batteries across Europe in 2020, securing valuable materials and making them reusable for new products.

 

Lead-acid batteries are just one example. We are dedicated to making the economy more sustainable and circular. To learn more about how you can close your product cycles, reach out to us.