Conclusions and way forward

As lead-acid batteries are the fastest growing segment of lead usage, there will be a continuing demand for lead. Economics dictate that lead batteries will be recycled to augment supplies that come from mining sources (UNEP, 2013). Lead can be recycled indefinitely, although there are some losses at each stage, the amount depending on the efficiency of the recycling process. Informal recycling is particularly inefficient in terms of lead losses; moreover the purity of the final product is poor. Lead mining uses large amounts of energy and environmental resources, particularly water. It causes significant environmental degradation and loss of habitat as well as generating large amounts of contaminated waste tailings.


The environmental impact of recycling is potentially much less, for example, recycling lead saves approximately 55–65% of the energy used in mining and processing (UNEP, 2013). Provided it is carried out using appropriate technologies and to an adequate environmental standard, recycling can have less impact on the environment and on human health than mining. As this document indicates, recycling lead-acid batteries must be carried out with care to minimize environmental contamination and protect the health of workers and communities. While much of the responsibility for ensuring the sound management of used lead-acid batteries lies with the environment sector, the health sector must also play its part. This includes ensuring that health-care practitioners have training on, and resources for, the diagnosis and management of lead poisoning, educating local communities on the health hazards of lead, and taking action to inform the responsible authorities when lead poisoning associated with recycling is discovered. Furthermore, health ministries should aim to ensure the availability of laboratory capacity for blood lead testing and should work with industry to reduce employee exposures.


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Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health (PHE) World Health Organization (WHO) Avenue Appia 20 – CH-1211 Geneva 27 – Switzerland Email:

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