2011 battery recycling figures for Germany

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In all, 17,728 tons of portable batteries were collected for recycling in 2011
Source: PotoSG / Fotolia.com

According to the UBA’s analysis of the data concerning portable-battery collection and recycling in 2011, the collection rate for these batteries rose to 43.2 per cent, a 0.7 per cent increase over 2010. Germany’s four recycling systems for portable batteries collected 17,728 tons of such batteries, a 775 ton increase over the prior year.

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Portable batteries placed on the market

In 2011 nearly 44 million tons of portable batteries – more than 1.5 billion units – were placed on the market in Germany (see table 1), an all time record. Of these batteries, 72 per cent were primary batteries – down 4 per cent relative to 2010 and 9 per cent relative to 2009. The proportion of secondary batteries relative to all portable batteries has been rising steadily since 2009, reaching 28 per cent in 2011 (see Figure 1). A total of 12,123 tons of secondary batteries was placed on the market in 2011, up by 1,959 tons relative to 2010 and 5,188 tons relative to 2009. In contrast, 31,212 tons of primary batteries were placed on the market in 2011 (see table 1), down 1,155 tons relative to 2010.

The figures for lithium-ion batteries are particularly noteworthy, in that the aggregate weight of such products placed on the market doubled between 2009 and 2011. Such batteries accounted for 15 per cent of all portable batteries placed on the market in 2011. This increase in the use of secondary batteries is an ecological plus, in that they can be reused and thus help to improve the environmental and energy balance. Replacing primary batteries with secondary batteries saves around 500 grams of climate-relevant carbon emissions per battery-use hour (Climatop 2010).  


Collected portable batteries

All of Germany’s portable batteries are collected under the gemeinsames Rücknahmesystem and manufacturer-operated recycling schemes. In 2011, four such systems were in operation: the gemeinsames Rücknahmesystem (GRS), manufacturer-operated recycling schemes (Rebat), ERP Deutschland and Öcorecell. These systems collected a total of 17,728 tons of waste batteries nationwide in 2011, a 775 ton increase over the prior year.

The portable-battery collection rate rose to 43.2 per cent in 2011, a 0.7 per cent increase relative to the prior year (see Figure 2). As Figure 2 shows, collection rates exceeding 40 per cent have been reached since 2007 – although the rate has barely risen above this level in the interim.

In 2011, as in past years, less than half of the portable batteries that were placed on the market were collected. In order for this rate to rise, apart from continuous collection-system efforts, what is needed most is for consumers to pitch in.

Germany has more than 170,000 collection points for portable batteries, at battery retail locations such as supermarkets, large discount stores, drugstores and DIY stores. Such stores provide bins where consumers can deposit their waste batteries. As from 2012, each collection system is required by law to achieve a collection rate of at least 35 per cent, a figure that will rise to 40 and 45 per cent as from 2014 and 2016 respectively.

A closer look at the collection figures, broken down by battery type, reveals substantial differences between them (see Figure 3). The highest specific collection rates have been achieved for contaminant-containing lead-acid batteries (Pb: 133 per cent). While the specific collection rate for the older, less powerful generation of nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries (NiCd: 76 per cent) was above average, the rate for lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion: 6 per cent) and nickel metal-hydride secondary batteries (NiMH: 14 per cent) was below average. The low collection rates for the latter two types of batteries is attributable to the fact that they were introduced in what is a growing market relatively recently and are often incorporated into long lasting products; and thus fewer of such batteries have been returned to date. The collection rates for these two types of batteries in 2011 remained virtually unchanged relative to the prior year.

The collection rates for button cells increased on average from 11.5 per cent in 2010 to 14.2 per cent in 2011; and while this is a positive trend, this rate is a far cry from the overall collection rate of 43.2 per cent. It would seem that, owing to the relatively small size of button cells, many consumers have no qualms about throwing them away with the household trash. Another reason for the low collection rate for button cells could be that removing them from watches, calculators, remotes, singing postcards or electric toys is economically and technically demanding. And because button cells are so small, removing them from electrical and electronic waste is extremely labour intensive for recycling companies.


Waste-battery recycling

In 2011, 18,575 tons of portable batteries were collected for recycling via Germany’s four waste-battery collection systems, up from 17,728 tons in 2011. The ratio of these two figures equates to a 104.8 per cent recycling rate. This at first glance impossibly high rate amounting to more than 100 per cent is in fact possible due to the fact that the calculation method used here incorporates the collection and recycling rates for a given calendar year; and thus the recycling rate is affected by the lag time to which individual stocks of collected batteries are subject. If such stocks are recycled within a year, recycling rates exceeding 100 per cent can occur; and conversely, if stocks of collected waste batteries mount up, recycling rates decline.

The aggregate weight of collected waste batteries that were not recycled has declined steadily in recent years, and in 2011 amounted to 136 tons.

An analysis of the results obtained from the various waste-battery recycling processes revealed the following: The main products of waste-battery recycling were zinc and zinc compounds (4,315 tons), steel (3,072 tons) and ferromanganese (1,935 tons). Of the 18,575 tons of waste batteries that were recycled, 13,551 tons (73 per cent) were recovered as secondary raw materials, whereas 4,480 tons (24 per cent) could not be recycled and were discarded.

Figure 4 shows the recycling efficiencies of the various recycling processes, which were as follows: 65 per cent for Pb processes; 75 per cent for NiCd processes; and 50 per cent for all other processes. On average, using the current calculation method, the statutory minimum objectives that came into effect in 2011 were reached.

Figure 4: Recycling efficiencies relative to the minimum statutory objectives
Figure 4: Recycling efficiencies relative to the minimum statutory objectives
Source: Umweltbundesamt

Car and industrial batteries

A statistical analysis showed that car and industrial battery collection and recycling have been highly successful in Germany for many years now. And in 2011, as in past years, virtually all such batteries were collected for recycling.

Table 2 and Figure 5 show the car and industrial battery recycling rates for 2007-2011, according to statistics from Elektrotechnik- und Elektronikindustrie e.V. (2007-2009) and Wirtschafts Vereinigung Metalle (2010 and 2011). The recycling rate for waste car batteries rose to 99 per cent in 2011, up 5 per cent over the prior year. The counterpart rates for waste industrial batteries were 95 and 94 per cent respectively.

In interpreting these recycling rates, stocks on hand need to be taken into account, because the rate can vary depending on the extent to which (a) collected waste batteries are warehoused; or (b) collected waste batteries from the prior year are recycled.
The figures here pertain solely to lead-acid batteries, which accounted for virtually all car batteries and the lion’s share of industrial batteries in 2011. Other types of car or industrial chemical batteries were disregarded for the purposes of the present analysis.

The car waste battery recycling and disposal outcomes for 2011 clearly show that the recycling process (which is solely pyro-metallurgic) is very well established in Germany. The mean recycling efficiency of Germany’s six secondary-lead works amounted to 96.7 per cent and 96.5 per cent in 2011 and 2010 respectively. The 3.3 per cent of such batteries that were not recycled fall into the “other reuse” (0.4 per cent) and “disposal” (2.9 per cent) categories.
An analysis of industrial-battery qualitative and quantitative recycling and disposal outcomes shows that recycling is as firmly established for industrial batteries as it is for car batteries. Mean recycling efficiency for industrial batteries in 2011 on the part of Germany’s six secondary-lead works amounted to 97.1 per cent. The 2.9 per cent of such batteries that were not recycled falls into the “other reuse” (1.3 per cent) and “disposal” (1.6 per cent) categories.