Home FleetWatch 2011 Saving the environment…one battery at a time

Saving the environment…one battery at a time

These finished lead-acid batteries contain as much as 80% recycled lead and plastic.

When trying to impact positively on the environment, start with the simple and easy things , like looking around you at what things that would ordinarily be considered waste can be recycled. Recycling helps lessen the amount of waste that goes into landfills, reduces the amount of toxic chemicals absorbed into the earth and, in some cases, significantly reduces manufacturing costs and energy consumption. The simple battery is a case in point.

The bad news on this front is that the materials inside batteries can be extremely harmful to the environment? The good news is that your truck battery is 95% recyclable?

Lead-acid batteries are, in fact, an environmental success story with about 90% of all scrap batteries in South Africa being recycled. This compares to about 70% of beverage cans, 43% of newspapers, 26% of glass bottles and 67% of used motor oil. Lead-acid batteries top the list of the most highly recycled consumer product.

If incorrectly dealt with, however, battery lead, plastic and acid can negatively impact on the environment. Fortunately these components are well suited to recycling and First National Battery (FNB), a division of Metindustrial, a leading manufacturer and distributor of lead acid batteries, has taken the initiative to help save the environment by establishing a battery recycling facility in Benoni.


 This operator obviously doesn't realise the value of his batteries , to his pocket and the environment. Smashed batteries that fall off trucks don't really count.
This operator obviously doesn’t realise the value of his batteries , to his pocket and the environment. Smashed batteries that fall off trucks don’t really count.

How it began

During the Second World War when lead was considered a strategic metal, it was a legal requirement for the battery industry to introduce the ‘˜one-for-one’ system. The South African Battery Manufacturers have, since 1942, continued with a system of collecting spent batteries that has proved to be efficient and relatively simple to operate.

  • By continuing this service, originally enforced by law during the Second World War, the battery industry has achieved the following:
  • It has protected the lead stock held in the country thus avoiding the unnecessary importation of lead by making old batteries available for recycling.
  • It has saved the country a vast amount of foreign exchange by enabling recycling to take the place of importing replacement stocks of lead.
  • It has ensured that the polypropylene used in the manufacture of battery casings and lids is recycled.
  • The greatest advantage is that the battery industry has managed to stop the creation of a vast abundance of toxic waste in the form of sulphuric acid and lead from scrap batteries, which would otherwise be discarded all over the country.

FNB’s recycling process

Scrap batteries , both automotive and industrial , are processed through a battery breaker which, after breaking, separates lead, plastic and acid. This entire recycling process is carried out under the strictest environmental controls and accordingly has been ISO 14001:2004 certified.

  • Acid is neutralised and processed through an effluent plant and properly disposed of.
  • Plastic chips are sent to a processing plant where they are converted into pellets, which are then used at the FNB Fort Jackson plant to manufacture new battery containers, covers and other components.
  • Battery plates, terminals and other extracted lead are refined and blended in the lead smelter located in Benoni to produce high quality lead alloys.
  • This lead is then used in the manufacture of new batteries, at the two FNB battery manufacturing facilities in East London, thus completing the cycle.
The smelter used at FNB for battery recycling.
The smelter used at FNB for battery recycling.

The lead-acid battery gains its environmental edge from its closed-loop life cycle. The typical new lead-acid battery contains as much as 80% recycled lead and plastic. This recycling cycle goes on indefinitely. That means the lead and plastic in the lead-acid battery in your truck has been , and will continue to be , recycled many, many times. This makes lead-acid battery disposal extremely successful from both environmental and cost perspectives.

Recycling is not just good for the environment, it’s good for business too. As a result, FNB has more control over the quality of batteries they manufacture. By recycling lead-acid batteries and components, FNB must comply with stringent legislated environmental requirements which demand continual measurement and control, thus taking care of the environment and the economy.
So if you’re looking for ways to minimise your carbon footprint, pop into your workshops and ensure that all batteries are being sent for recycling. For more information on battery recycling, call 0800 112 600.

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