The discovery of potential environmental and human health effects from disposal of millions of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries each year has led scientists to recommend stronger government policies to encourage recovery, recycling and reuse of lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery materials. That's the conclusion of a new paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Oladele A. Ogunseitan and colleagues point out that Li-ion batteries have become mainstays for powering everything from smart phones to components in new jetliners, with global sales approaching $8 billion annually. They realized that the short life span (2-4 years) of Li-ion batteries in portable electronic devices would make a huge contribution to the electronic waste problem, which already is the fastest growing form of solid waste. So they decided to see whether potentially toxic materials leach out and become a health and environmental threat after disposal.
Using standardized leaching tests, hazard assessment models and other methods for evaluating hazardous waste, the scientists showed that Li-ion batteries from cell phones would meet federal government definitions of hazardous waste because of lead content. California standards would classify them as hazardous due to cobalt, copper and nickel content. "These findings support the need for stronger government policy at the local, national, and international levels to encourage recovery, recycling, and reuse of lithium battery materials," their report states.
The scientists acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation's Biocomplexity in the Environment, Materials Use: Science, Engineering, and Society Program; the University of California Systemwide Research and Education in Green Materials; and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health.
- Daniel Hsing Po Kang, Mengjun Chen, Oladele A. Ogunseitan. Potential Environmental and Human Health Impacts of Rechargeable Lithium Batteries in Electronic Waste. Environmental Science & Technology, 2013; 47 (10): 5495 DOI: 10.1021/es400614y
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