As the world shifts to a low-carbon economy, the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and other clean technologies will require a significant increase in battery storage. Lead-based batteries currently supply over 70% of the world’s rechargeable battery needs
, and will continue to play a critical role in supporting the energy transition alongside emerging battery technologies.
Proper recycling and disposal of batteries is needed alongside increased battery use. Failure to properly recycle batteries can lead to leakage of contaminants such as lead and cadmium into the environment and represents a lost opportunity to reuse valuable materials. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 180,000 tonnes of batteries are thrown out each year1.
At Teck’s Trail Operations, recycling programs for lead batteries, zinc alkaline batteries, and cathode ray tube (CRT) glass used in old television screens help to address this challenge. Since 1982, when Trail Operations first started recycling lead batteries, we have helped keep hundreds of thousands of tonnes of metal in use and reduce environmental impacts.
A key person behind these recycling programs is Tammy Salway, Superintendent, Blend Management at Trail Operations. Tammy has worked in production and commercial roles at Trail for 22 years
, and has focused on the urban materials recycling program since 2012.
“Many metals are infinitely recyclable and a key part of the circular economy. For example, during the recycling process, 99% of the lead processed through our KIVCET furnace is recovered,” said Tammy.
In 2019, these programs safely and sustainably recycled over 41,000 tonnes of materials, including 32,500 tonnes of lead batteries, 8,000 tonnes of CRT glass, and 500 tonnes of zinc alkaline batteries. In fact, Trail Operations recycles nearly all of the zinc alkaline batteries in Western Canada and the Northwestern United States.
Lead batteries are a proven, reliable technology, and have great potential for further performance improvements to help meet the demands of a low-carbon world. And thanks to recycling efforts like those at Trail Operations, lead has one of the highest recycle rates of any material, with recycling rates in North America of up to 99%2. In fact, the closed-loop model of lead battery recycling recognized by the World Economic Forum as a strong example of the circular economy already at work.
“By extending the lifecycle of valuable materials and minimizing environmental impacts, the urban materials recycling program at Trail is key to meeting growing global material needs in a sustainable way,” said Thompson Hickey, General Manager, Trail Operations.
Learn more about our approach to materials stewardship in the Responsible Production and Waste Management section of our website.