…As Heinrich Boll Stiftung seeks proper regulation of ULAD in Nigeria
Stakeholders on Used Lead Acid Battery (ULAB) has warned that poor and unsound management of ULAB is highly toxic to humans and can damage the brain and kidneys, affect hearing and create significant learning disabilities in children.They gave this warning at a training workshop on environmentally sound management of used lead acid batteries and the application of the benchmarking assessment tool in the context of implementing the BASEL convention, organised by Heinrich Boll Stiftung Nigeria in Lagos.
As the batteries may contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, silver, nickel or lithium than can contaminate the environment if not recycled or disposed of properly.According to a study Heinrich Boll Stiftung in 2016 approximately 106,000tons of used lead acid batteries are generated annually in Nigeria, while approximately 96,000tons are collected and sold annually and most used lead acid batteries are bought by “informal” collectors and traders of new batteries and delivered mainly to Onitsha, South East Nigeria and Lagos State, other smaller collection states includes Kano and Ibadan.
The study showed that even though Nigeria has a fairly basic but organized collection, transportation and storage system for used lead acid batteries around the country, there is no evidence of health, environmental or safety precautions in handling this hazardous waste by primary recyclers. The findings concluded that there is need for more stakeholder engagement on ULAD to determine the status of secondary smelting and recycling in Nigeria and possible export activities of lead from Nigeria.
Speaking on ULAB Recycling: Risks, Opportunities and Improvement Options; The use of the Benchmarking Assessment Tool for environmentally sound management of used lead-acid batteries (ULAB), Andreas Manhart, Senior Researcher Sustainable Products & Material Flows Coordinator of Lead Africa Project, Oko Institute Germany noted that Nigeria should adopt control measures to adequately address releases, emissions and exposures from waste lead-acid batteries, including recycling, e.g. through appropriate standards and criteria”
According to him the United Nations Environment Assembly is “deeply concerned about the health and environmental impacts from waste lead-acid battery recycling, in particular through activities in the informal sector in developing countries, and the lack of adequate infrastructure needed to recycle the rapidly growing number of waste lead-acid batteries in an environmentally sound manner.He also stressed that Standards need to be raised for all ULAB recyclers in Nigeria to have a level playing field.‘’For this, a mapping of all ULAB recyclers/smelters is urgently needed. There are indications that there are over 20 sub-standard smelters operating in Nigeria. Sub-standard smelters should be forced to improve or closed down by the authorities.’He added that for auditing, the Benchmarking Assessment Tool is a valuable instrument and should be tapped into by regulators for minimum plant assessment. In the short term, the Basel Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of Waste Lead-acid Batteries can be used as legal backing for a concerted improvement process.
However, Findings from a field research conducted by Recycling and Economic Initiative Development of Nigeria (REDDIN) indicates that annually, a projected 110,300 tons of used lead acid batteries are generated in Nigeria, while estimated 96,000 tons are collected and sold annually. With each ton sold at N340,000 which translates to N32.6 billion annually.The worry is that while this is a emergent business, Nigeria is yet to build up a distinctive regulatory code for the activities of operators despite the toxic nature of waste generated.
According to the managing director/CEO of REDIN Recycling Industries, Terseer Ugbor, who conducted a research on ULAB, noted that “Used lead acid batteries are considered the second most toxic waste after nuclear waste. It is not something that countries play with at all and it is not something that Nigeria should play with,”He said, “If we are going to bungle other waste streams like plastic bottles and other packaging wastes, lead acids should not be mismanaged because of the harmful effects.”Batteries fall into two basic groups: lead acid batteries and dry cell batteries. Lead acid batteries are often used to power automobiles, industrial equipment and alternative energy systems.
Dry cell batteries power radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers, portable power tools, and other consumer goods.
However, lead-acid batteries contain sulphuric acid and large amounts of lead. The acid is extremely corrosive and is also a good carrier for soluble lead and lead particulate. Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects particularly in young children, said the researchers.Worse still, Nigeria is not maximising value from the used lead acid battery market because findings show that as much as 80 percent of the batteries are exported without passing through recycling.Nonetheless, with the rise of alternative energy usage in Nigeria, especially small scale solar energy systems and inverter energy systems, which generally require Lead Acid Batteries for energy storage has created a new ULAB waste stream along with its potential environment hazards.
Lead acid batteries are commonly used to power automobiles, industrial equipemny, emergency lighting and alternative energy systems. Dry cell batteries are used in radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers, portable power tools, and other consumer goods.In the meantime, a report by Union Autoparts Mfg. Co. Ltd a member of Ibeto Group established in 1987 and which commenced the production of Lead Acid Batteries in 1988 indicated that in the late 1980’s and the 1990’s, battery manufacturing was a major employer of labour with over 12 companies in active production with most of them having over 1000 workers each.According to their report some of these major companies include West African Batteries at Ibadan (EXIDE), Metropolitan Batteries (Otta), Sunshine Batteries (Uyo), Union Autoparts (Nnewi) etc.
However, as at 2011, all these companies have, except Union Autoparts, closed down due to the very unfriendly manufacturing environment in Nigeria caused by uncontrolled dumping of cheap imported Chinese batteries which made it impossible to sell the locally manufactured goods and the complete absence of infrastructure needed for manufacturing.Union Autoparts is the only battery manufacturing company left in Nigeria with its operations and man-power seriously scaled down.Their Lead recycling Plant started in 1989 with the objective of handling wastes from the battery factory and of producing lead ingots needed for battery manufacturing and the company has a monthly capacity of recycling 1000mt of battery cells or 1200mt of battery cells annually which translates to about 860,000 units of car batteries.
The huge investment in this project is almost a loss as the battery scrap is collected by all comers, some cut and bag the plates and export same to other countries while our local factory remains idle. Though export of scrap metal is in the export prohibition list, and in spite of Nigeria signing the Basel convention on Transboundary movement of hazardous goods, no agency of Government tries to stop this export of our raw materials. Some others, without regards to the environment, smelt this battery plates into crude lead ingots and export and thus endanger both personnel and the environment while hurting the existence of local factories.
For now, Used acid batteries are mainly bought by two companies in Nigeria: Ibeto Group which has been producing batteries locally and exporting lead and Metal Recycling Industries Ltd that recycles batteries for the lead and converts to ingots for export.
Speaking on the challenges, Donald Ikenna Ofoegbu, program coordinator at Heinrich Boll Stiftung, Nigeria, a foundation that is advocating for proper management of used lead acid batteries said their ‘facilities are always empty of batteries,”On site inspection of Ibeto plant, ‘Ofoegbu’ along with some officials from NESERA, and the ministry of environment found out that even though the company follows international best practice, it cannot get enough used battery and had to lay off a quarter of its staff to keep the business open. This is because artisanal lead acid miners have cornered the bulk of the batteries that are not exported.In some market in Abuja and several auto workshops in Lagos, young men use cutlasses to hack open batteries in order to extract lead which is packaged for exports.
Therefore they called on the federal to enforce ban on export of battery plates and crude lead ingots; control indiscriminate processing of used batteries to protect Health, Safety and Environment; Control dumping of substandard Chinese batteries (hike import tariff); thus; Government and Agencies should mandatorily use made in Nigeria products.The only positive part of it is that the batteries are being collected from the streets but the way they are being managed and transported doesn’t follow the right protocol and the way they are being recycled locally doesn’t follow any known environmental regulation or law or the international treaty, the BASEL convention that Nigeria is a signatory to.
According to the BASEL convention, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn when handling ULABs, and must be stacked in an upright orientation with all the vent and inspection caps firmly in place so that acid is not spilled.It also recommend that ULABs should be stored, handled and transported in accordance with domestic hazardous waste, dangerous goods and workplace health and safety legislation. Batteries that are leaking electrolyte should be placed in a suitable plastic container.“We know about the convention and the problems with ULABs, the agency is working to develop standards and regulations for it,” said an official from National Environmental Standards and regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), who didn’t want to be named because she has no authorisation to speak on the matter.
Without a clear cut policy on ULABs, Nigeria has an Extended Producer Responsibility rule which requires a producer of hazardous material to be responsible for clean-up and care for the environment.The worry is that “The EPR Regulations in Nigeria have also been slow to take effect because of its underlying setup as a Corporate Social Responsibility rather than as a mandatory directive backed by legislation.
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