90 per cent of lead batteries reach informal sector, triggering pollution: study

Esha Roy
Jharkhand and Rajasthan are badly affected with most LABs reaching small unmonitored bhattis .

A study by environmental think tank Toxic Links has found that 90 per cent of lead acid batteries (LABs) reach the informal recycling sector where they are recycled crudely and without any regulation, releasing toxins into the air, water and soil.

The study Loaded Batteries: Mapping the toxic waste trail released on Tuesday was conducted across Rajasthan, Delhi, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh.

The findings show that the transportation of LABs to the informal recycling sector are in direct contravention of the Batteries Management and Handling Rules (2001) under which, either battery manufacturing companies should take the LABs for recycling, or they should be recycled by registered recycling units.

LABs are usually transported to neighbouring areas such as Ghaziabad and Alwar from Delhi, where strict environmental regulations for hazardous industries are in place. Jharkhand and Rajasthan are badly affected with most LABs reaching small unmonitored bhattis .

According to the Battery Rules which were set up in 2001, the target was that by 2003, 90 per cent of LABs were to be sent back to the manufacturer for recycling. But even after 18 years this has not been achieved which shows a failure of the regulatory authorities, said Priti Mahesh, one of the authors of the study.

The study has found that of the 36 agencies (State Pollution Control Boards and PCCs), not even half have filed reports on the status of implementation of rules to the Central Pollution Control Board.

Lead industries are globally considered one of the most hazardous industries and India has, over the years, phased out leaded petrol and lead based paint for this very reason.

According to a study conducted by Pure Earth and Green Cross Switzerland, the battery recycling industry puts 1 million people at risk globally.

The Indian lead acid battery market was valued at $4.47 billion in 2016 and was expected to grow at a CAGR of 8.36 per cent in terms of value, to reach close to $8 billion by 2022.

This rate of growth has been predicted on the basis of the expansion of the market of automobiles, telecommunication infrastructure, solar power projects and the ever-growing IT industry… According to Central Pollution Control Board, based on data received from State Pollution Control Boards, the amount of new batteries sold in 2016-17 was 198,250 tonnes (from 17 states), says the report.

The study points out two broad problems in the disposal of the LABs.

The first is the lack of regulation by authorities such as the CPCB and the SPCBs. And the second is the nature of recycling in the informal sector, in which lead is melted on furnaces and the acid in the batteries is often dumped in nearby drains or fields polluting water as well as soil.