The New York Times has reported that the EPA has released some disturbing findings with regard to battery recycling. The report notes that many lead acid batteries are being shipped to Mexico for recycling.
Where something is recycled is not so bad. How something is recycled is important. It turns out that many of the plants in Mexico have few if any environmental controls in place. As a result, lead is released into the air and local environment and workers are exposed to toxic chemicals.
It is an irony of recycling that in trying to do good, we are contributing to harm. Every study that I have seen on people’s environmental attitude has shown that people feel good about recycling. It lets them feel as though they are contributing to the environment.
Of course, people also like the fact that they do not have to think about what happens to their stuff that they are recycling. The Times article demonstrates that they should think about what happens to their stuff.
The lead acid battery industry likes to claim that battery recycling is a success. In many ways it is. More than 95% of batteries are recaptured for recycling. But what good is that if they are being recycled in a manner that harms the environment?
Further, the companies involved in these activities should be ashamed of their actions in our modern world. The biggest player in battery recycling, Johnson Controls, has stopped any certification or accountability standard from being implemented. Indeed, the article notes that ASTM standards were voted down and Johnson Controls had nearly 50% of the seats on the panel…hmmmmm curious.
Battery manufacturers and recyclers need to be held to a high environmental standard due to the nature of what they are recycling. Companies that make and sell batteries need to mandate proper handling of the batteries that they collect as a part of their return programs.
Finally, consumers need to ask what companies are doing with the batteries. And, Johnson Controls should simply be ashamed of its actions.