August 28, 2019: Toxics Link’s recent claims that ‘close to 90% of used lead acid batteries’ reach India’s informal (illegal) recycling sector have been refuted by India Lead Zinc Development Association executive director L. Pugazhenthy (known to most as Pug).
Toxics Link, an Indian environmental research and advocacy organization set up in 1996, made the claims about the used lead acid batteries (ULABs) in a report released on August 20.
“This conclusion is exaggerated and totally flawed,” says Pug. “By meeting a few battery dealers and tracking the movement of some ULABs in a few states, they have come to a conclusion that is not a true reflection of the national picture.
“By their own admission, there are clearly shortcomings with the methodology that is the basis for the report. Although the report describes how the ULABs are recycled and highlights the related adverse environmental and health hazards in the informal sector, the broader conclusions of this study are not representative of India’s situation.
“The sector is legislated and operates under an appropriate set of rules for ULAB collection, regulated battery auctions by bulk consumers, and furthermore operates under a registered scheme for green recycling introduced back in 2001, which has worked well in subsequent years.”
The study admits that due to ‘resource constraints’ it only collected information from the four Indian states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, although there are 29 states and several Union Territories in India.
India has about 600 registered ULAB recycling plants across the country.
“The true figure would be closer to 40% informal recycling and 60% recycled in the formal sector,” Pug says. “The number of ULABs recycled by the informal sector could have been much lower with strict implementation and monitoring by the State Regulatory Boards, which is not the case at present, for a variety of reasons. In which case, the MoEF and CPCB should periodically review the status of ULAB recycling and take corrective actions.”
The study also admits that ‘updated information from regulatory agencies was not available’. It also says it was unable to get information from bulk battery consumers such as railways, defence, telecom companies and the like, which have to auction their batteries periodically to authorised/registered recyclers only.
“Most of these bulk consumers have only been auctioning ULABs to registered recyclers,” says Pug.
The recycling rates are calculated against replacement lead battery sales and not against total domestic sales of batteries. This is because the original equipment market, lead batteries used in new cars, trucks, vans, electric bicycles and the vast number of lead batteries in inverters and commercial solar power installations, are not counted in the initial statistics for lead battery sales.
Official comments from the Ministry of Environment & Forests and Climate Change as well as the Central Pollution Control Board should clarify the true situation for India, Pug says.