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Battery Recycling in Canada 2009 Update - Executive Summary

Battery Recycling

Battery Collection

The current collection rate for primary consumer batteries is 5% in Ontario, where many municipalities include batteries in their municipal hazardous and special waste (MHSW) programs. It is minimal in other provinces where programs are currently not in place. 

The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation of Canada (RBRCC) voluntary consumer battery recycling program targets selected rechargeable consumer batteries and was the only program for which collected tonnage information could be obtained. While this program does not reflect all consumer battery recycling in Canada, the tonnage collected was divided by the total estimated tonnage of consumer batteries discarded to estimate a minimum (lower bound) recycling rate for consumer batteries. The actual recycling rate is likely higher than this value, as the estimated recycling rate does not capture consumer battery recycling through other programs.  Data could not be found for recovery through the other programs. The estimated overall collection rates for secondary consumer batteries through the RBRCC program alone in 2006/2007 were estimated, and vary somewhat depending on whether the batteries are hoarded for 5 years or 15 years after they are spent. Collection rate values for the 5 to 15 year hoarding assumptions respectively are: 8% to 9% for NiCd batteries; 7% to 8% for NiMH batteries; and 45% to 72% for lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries combined. Collection rates through the RBRCC program for all end of life small sealed lead acid (SSLA) consumer batteries were estimated at 10% for 5 year and 15 year hoarding assumptions. It should be noted that the RBRCC program only collects SSLA batteries which weigh less than 0.9kg (2 pounds). It should also be stressed that these figures do not take collection of secondary consumer batteries through other sources into account, and actual collection rates are likely higher than these values.

Battery collection rates in Canada will increase over time as various stewardship programs currently under consideration or being mandated in legislation are implemented. 

Battery Processing Infrastructure

There is an existing battery processing infrastructure in Canada and the US which can process consumer batteries from the Canadian market. The current infrastructure has sufficient capacity to process all non-lead based consumer batteries currently disposed in Canada. The current infrastructure is significantly under-utilized for some battery chemistries. Processors of primary and secondary consumer batteries suffer from a lack of supply, and need more batteries for their operations. All processors contacted during this study indicated a willingness to add capacity or additional shifts, as, required to meet future processing demands.

Each company in the consumer battery recycling infrastructure has one or more specialties as shown in Table ES-2, which also shows the annual amounts of consumer batteries which reached end of life in 2007. The table shows that adequate processing capacity exists for consumer batteries in processing facilities in Canada and the US.

Table ES-2: Specialties and Capacities of Consumer Battery Recycling Facilities
CompanySpecialtyCapacity (tonnes/year)Batteries Reaching End of Life in Canada (2007), tonnes
Toxco, Trail, BCLithium batteries, all chemistries
47 lithium ion + 4 lithium polymer + 333 lithium primary
Teck, Trail, BCAlkaline batteries in zinc smelter
9,734 alkaline
RMC, Port Colborne, OntarioAlkaline and zinc carbon
9,734 alkaline
Xstrata, Sudbury, OntarioCobalt bearing batteries
6,000 to 7,000
274 NiMH + 47 lithium ion
INMETCO, PennsylvaniaNickel bearing batteries
274 NiMH
Toxco, Ohio (Kinsbursky Bros)Cadmium batteries
15,600 to 19,200
1,915 NiCd

Recyclers charge a fee for processing of alkaline and zinc carbon batteries because the small amounts of zinc and other materials in these consumer batteries are not of sufficiently high value to pay for the recycling cost. 

Cobalt in lithium ion and to a lesser extent nickel metal hydride consumer batteries and nickel in nickel metal hydride batteries have traditionally been of sufficiently high value to offset the costs of recycling; and when market prices are sufficiently high, recyclers may actually pay for this feedstock.

There are four large lead smelters in Canada and one small lead smelter in British Columbia, where lead acid batteries are recycled. Significant numbers of used lead acid batteries are exported to the US and are also imported from the US to Canada through existing commercial arrangements between smelters and battery manufacturers. The lead smelter operators interviewed for this project indicated that they were operating at capacity in 2007, and that they would establish additional processing capacity if a secure supply of lead acid batteries could be assured. The reported capacities of the five lead smelters in Canada are presented in Table ES-3. About 104,600 tonnes of lead are contained in the batteries researched in this study. There is sufficient capacity to process these batteries in Canadian lead smelters.

Table ES-3: Capacity of Canadian Secondary Lead Smelters
CompanyCapacity (tonnes/year lead)Lead from Lead Acid Batteries, tonnes
Teck, Trail, BC
Tonolli, Mississauga, ON
Newalta, Montreal, PQ
Xstrata, Belledune, NB
Metalex, BC

Lead acid batteries from automotive and other uses already have value in the marketplace and an existing efficient collection and recycling infrastructure. The combined recycling rate for lead acid batteries for the five year period from 1999-2003 was reported at 99.2% for the US by Battery Council International in 2005. The rate is calculated by adding all of the lead recycled across five years and comparing it to the lead contained in batteries sold in the appropriate prior years based on average life for different types of lead acid batteries. A similar recycling rate is probably also in place in Canada. It is unlikely that recycling levels higher than 99.2% could be achieved over a sustained period.

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