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Issue 47
, 2014
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Delhi: A Big Hotspot for Battery Recycling

Source: Toxics Link, Date: , 2014

Lead Acid Battery Industry has seen huge growth in the recent years. Worldwide primary and secondary battery demand is projected to rise about 7 percent annually; it was estimated through 2010 to be a $73.6 billion global market. The growth story of Indian Lead Acid battery industry has been even more phenomenal. It is poised to grow to over 100 percent in the coming four years given the current rate of growth of over 25 per cent annually. The total Indian storage battery market is estimated approximately at US$ 600 million with the automotive battery segment contributing more than 65 percent of the overall market value. Indian market consists of large brands such as Amron, Exide and Luminous etc but there exist a large number of local and small brand players termed as non-branded. Non-branded batteries are cheaper and consumers buy them due to the cost difference (non branded battery costs ~half of branded battery).

Batteries are used in automotive vehicles such as trucks, cars, bikes etc. These are also used in household’s items like inverters and UPS. Whenever the battery life ends the consumer gives it to the automotive shops and gets some money or exchange with new battery as replacement. This has been the general practice in India.

Batteries contain a number of heavy metals and toxic chemicals (battery contains 65% of lead, 16% sulphuric acid, 10% of plastics and around 9% of other materials); their improper recycling and dumping has raised concern over risks of soil & water contamination and air pollution. For example, in humans lead (Pb) is widely known to impact the central and nervous peripheral system and blood system; children and women are much more susceptible to lead poisoning. The sources contributing are 20% from food, 15% from air, 10% from water and rest 55% from the dust & soil. Lead is also accumulates in the environment and chronic has effects on plant, animal and microorganism.

To address some of these concerns, the Battery (Management and Handling) Rules came in 2001 with an amendment in 2010. These rules apply to every manufacturer, importer, re-conditioner, assembler, dealers, recycler, auctioneers and bulk consumer.  

Nonetheless, implementation of the Rule has been highly inadequate and monitoring even poorer. In India, there are around 353 registered recyclers, but a large informal sector is involved in battery recycling. 55% of the battery waste is processed in unorganized sector or the informal sector. Delhi is one large market for such recycling.

According to Government information, there are no lead smelting units in Delhi. But there are many areas in Delhi such as Mandoli, Karawal Nagar, Narela, Mundka, and Nazafgarh, where the smelting operations are still running clandestinely. These illegal and unauthorized units break the batteries manually and recycled in unsafe manner.

The units dismantle and segregate different components like plastic, lead grids & powder, separators and acids. The plastic is sent to a plastic recycler where the pieces are melted together into an almost-liquid state. The molten plastic is put through an extruder that produces small plastic pellets of uniform size. Those pellets are sold to the manufacturer of battery cases. The separators are washed in water tubs and lead powder (PbO) is collected from the bottom. The Acid is thrown openly near the units.

The most toxic parts are the lead grids and lead oxide, which are melted together in furnace. The molten lead is poured into ingot molds. When the ingot cools, they are removed from the molds and sent to the manufacturers, where they are re-melted and used in the production of new lead grids & lead powder. The lead recovery process is extremely hazardous and may lead to serious occupational hazard and environmental pollution. The lead grinding and filling areas are Saboli, Mandoli, Karawal Nagar, Alipur, Narela, Bakauli, Sultanpur Mazra and Nangloi etc.  

Though the Battery Rules do bring in the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), for better management and safe recycling, EPR and the take back system should be implemented mandatorily by dealer and manufacturer. They can open collection centers individually or jointly for the consumers. Financial incentives can also probably help in bringing in consumers in the system. Lastly, there is a urgent need to create awareness on the issue among consumers and other stakeholders.

 By Vinod Kumar Sharma