It’s critical: lead, recycling and securing Europe’s industrial strength

Europe’s drive to boost recycling through the Critical Raw Materials Act will reduce reliance on external providers, improve energy security and shore-up growth.

As one of the key materials underpinning Europe’s circular economy, lead is recycled and re-used in everything from battery production to cables linking offshore wind farms.

And it’s not on the endangered list because Europe is self-sufficient in this essential, mainly-recycled raw material.

It underpins Europe’s successful lead battery manufacturing industry as well as playing an important role as an enabler in metals processing, it’s the ingredient that helps recycle other metals.

Renewable energy is the key to meeting climate targets and there is need for a rapid shift from the current energy model. Many of the raw materials needed by the renewable sector include steel, nickel, copper, chromium, manganese, copper and lead. The waste management industry plays an important role for the recovery of key raw materials and the transition from the old linear model of truck and tip to landfill has already begun.

However, the recycling sector needs an in-depth framework on how waste is managed, focusing on retaining critical raw materials which are already circulating within the EU economy and are key for the green energy sector.

Lead batteries – made, recycled and the materials re-used in Europe – are the exemplar of the circular economy in action.

Much of the lead used in battery production is recycled and produced in Europe, and all the batteries manufactured within the EU, which are collected at the end of their life, are fully recycled. This means everything can be recycled and re-used, from the lead to the plastic and the battery acid. Nothing goes to waste. Nothing is discarded.

Lead batteries, alongside other technologies, are a critical part of the mix of rechargeable energy storage technologies, from batteries supporting data centres, and uninterruptable power supplies in hospitals, to renewables energy storage and the auxiliary lead batteries providing safe and reliable back-up power in electric vehicles.

Lead acts as an enabler in processing and recycling other metals, facilitating faster extraction of key raw materials and precious metals, such as gold and silver, as well as tin. The EU’s home-grown metals recycling industry is one of the most advanced and efficient in the world, and further innovation of the recycling processes will ensure commercialising materials that are produced, used, and re-used in the EU territory, ensuring security of supply through sustainable urban mining.

Aligning the recycling sector with existing policy priorities to integrate the Circular Economy within high-level industrial strategies and investment planning is key for accelerating Europe’s green transition, as well as with a framework at European level to mitigate potential environmental and health risks from poor waste management.

Legislators must be mindful of the important integrating role lead plays in recycling and as a metal that matters in significant products that underpin the EU economy, support sustainable energy storage and critical functions.

Protecting the EU’s strategic autonomy while increasing its competitiveness will be achieved by whole integration of the parties involved in the circular economy model.

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