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The process of recycling a motor car’s lead-acid battery is one of the most successful stories in the strive towards sustainability.

Impressively complex in its workings, did you know that most of the components that make up your car’s battery are made from recyclable materials? In fact, the process of breaking-down a modern motor vehicle’s expended lead-acid battery into various reusable elements has evolved into one of the noteworthy stories of global sustainability- lead acid batteries are one of the success stories of the circular economy.

The Recycling Process In South Africa

In South Africa, the recycling process begins with the collection of used batteries. Subject to an industry-managed scheme where every new battery sold has a scrap deposit added to the selling price, this deposit is returned on receipt of the used battery. This encourages an exchange principle rather than potentially irresponsible disposal. This is similar to the deposit scheme on glass cold drink bottles if you were around in the 1980’s.

With up to 98% of a car’s lead-acid battery able to be recycled, the three main components separated via this process are metals (lead), sulphuric acid and polypropylene plastic.

The battery is crushed, and water added to the lead, acid and plastic- the plastic floats to the top and the metals sink to the bottom making the separation easy.

The plastic can be reused for anything from the construction of new battery housings to plumbing pipes and even raincoats. The plastic is washed, cleaned, melted and made into pellets that can be reused in injection moulding to make almost anything that can be moulded- even into the plastic required for new batteries.

The lead and metals are melted in a furnace to allow refining into the correct specifications and then being cast into ingots. The ingots are then melted at the battery manufacturer and made into the components for a new battery.

Neutralised via a chemical process, the potentially harmful sulphuric acid used as the electrolyte conductor within a motor vehicle’s battery is turned to water that is thoroughly tested and assessed before being discarded or converted to sodium sulphate. This latter compound is used extensively within laundry detergents, textile manufactures and the production process of glass.

Recycling Batteries Reduces Imports

“With no natural lead resources of our own, the recycling of used car batteries is of particular importance in South Africa,” says Kelvin Naidoo, Manufacturing and Technical Director of AutoX, manufacturer of Willard Batteries. “Recycling keeps costs down, virtually eliminates the dependence on imports and creates employment for thousands of people, from scrap and waste collectors to recycling smelters and distribution networks.”

AutoX Puts Sustainability First

As the broad levels of awareness of the South African consumer around the need for a sustainable outlook grows, the added convenience of having a certified fitment centre remove any guesswork from the recycling process of your car’s lead-acid battery has allowed this industry to remain at the forefront of this movement.