Toxic batteries from Ghana recycled in Germany

In an innovative international cooperation, lead-acid batteries collected in Ghana have been recycled in an environmentally sound manner in Germany. Experts neutralised the battery acid and achieved a very high lead recycling rate.

The export of used lead-acid batteries from Africa was organised by the German government through a project that seeks to achieve sustainable improvements in cooperation between Africa and Europe on recycling batteries, end-of-life vehicles and electronic waste. Johnson Controls, a global leader in manufacturing and recycling lead-acid batteries, recycled them.

Johann-Friedrich Dempwolff at Johnson Controls said that they were able to recycle up to 99 per cent of the used batteries at their recycling centre in Germany. The unique international cooperation also ensures that the acid from the batteries isn’t drained into the ground in Ghana as has often be the case in the past.

This project shows that lead-acid batteries used in Africa can be recycled in a resource-efficient manner, especially as demand for such batteries continues to grow strongly in Ghana, according to Jürgen Meinel from City Waste Recycling Ltd., the Ghanaian recycling firm that collected the batteries. “Export to Germany is the best solution given the absence of local alternatives and there should be many more containers of lead batteries to follow in the years to come.”

Improper lead-acid battery recycling presents a significant environmental and health problem in Ghana and all of Africa. The discharge of the battery acid into the environment and remelting of the lead in open fires or recycling plants that lack up-to-date technology are common practice in Africa and few alternatives have been developed to date.

The project is now setting up new recycling structures in Ghana and Egypt and will test pilot operations with the goal of creating jobs locally. Any components that cannot be recycled in the region in an efficient and environmentally sound manner would then be exported to specialised high-tech refineries in Europe. The project only addresses locally generated scrap and is not associated with the illegal trade in hazardous waste and e-waste. The project will run until May 2015.

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