Sustainable Industry

How should you dispose of battery cells, batteries, electronics and light bulbs?

Disposing of these items correctly is vital to not contaminate the environment

Battery cells, batteries, electronic equipment and light bulbs are an essential part of everyday life. While they are in good working conditions, these items are quite useful in our daily lives, but at the end of their lives, these items are considered to be hazardous waste and their improper disposal could cause environmental and health damages.

In 2010, the National Solid Waste Policy (Law No. 12,305) established the requirement to design and implement reverse logistics systems apart from the public urban cleaning service. According to the law, “consumers must return products after they have been used, and manufacturers, importers, distributors, and traders must manage solid waste, including pesticides, battery cells and batteries; tires; lubricating oils and the associated waste and packaging; fluorescent, sodium and mercury vapor and mixed light lamps and electrical and electronic products and their components.”

Battery cells and batteries – In order to comply with the National Waste Policy, in 2016 the Brazilian Electrical and Electronics Industry Association (Abinee) created Green Eletron, a steering entity that conducts the reverse logistics of cells and batteries on behalf of member companies.

Since its inception, Green Eletron has collected two thousand tons of cells and batteries. There are eight thousand collection points across Brazil. According to Green Eletron’s CEO, Ademir Brescansin, the incorrect disposal of these items can cause soil and water contamination, not to mention the raw materials that go to waste.

“If these items go to the regular waste basket, they can have one of two destinations: being collected through the system and going to a landfill, or being thrown in the dump and contaminating the soil and water because of the substances they contain. In addition, you have raw material going to waste,” said Ademir.

Once collected, the items are sent to an industrial facility in Juiz de Fora (MG), which reuses zinc parts and disposes of the other materials in an environmentally correct manner. In 2019 alone, Green Eletron helped to recycle 171 tons of battery cells and batteries.

The company also runs school campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of correctly collecting and disposing of this material. “Our idea is to send a clear message and encourage people – especially the children – to perform collection properly” said Ademir.

Electronic equipment – ​​Green Eletron is also in charge of collecting and sending electronic equipment for recycling. This category includes everything that is plugged into a socket or works with cells or batteries, such as cell phones, remote controls, notebooks, dough mixers, among others.

There are currently around 1,200 collection points in 24 states, and approximately 1,800 tons have been collected since 2016. Once collected, the electronics are disassembled and the individual parts are properly routed. “There is a long way to recycling electronics. For example, a cake mixer has a plastic housing, some metal parts and some glass parts. Each material goes down a different path to be recycled.”

Lamp bulbs – Also following enactment of the National Solid Waste Policy and signature of a sectoral agreement to implement a reverse logistics system for lamp bulbs containing mercury in their composition, the non-profit association Reciclus was created in 2014.

The association is responsible for conducting the reverse logistics of lamp bulbs that contain mercury in their composition, and provides delivery points at retail facilities throughout Brazil so that individuals can dispose of their used lamp bulbs for subsequent safe collection and proper transport and destination in their approved recyclers.

Since 2017, when Reciclus’ actual operations began, and even to date, 23.1 million light bulbs have been collected. There are 3,305 collection points in 691 municipalities, and a pledge has been made to reach 3,804 collection points in 928 municipalities in five years.

Once collected, each lamp material is disposed of properly. According to Camila Horizonte, the leader of Marketing and Prospecting at Reciclus, more than 90% are reused in the industry. “The brass pins go to the automotive industry; the glass goes to the ceramics and vitrification industry, and the mercury goes to an environmentally safe destination”, she said.

Around 1,000 kilograms of glass have already been recycled, preventing the extraction of 1,300 kilograms of the sand used to manufacture the material, 10,000 kilograms of plastic and 1,000 kilograms of aluminum, thereby preventing the extraction of 5,000 kilograms of bauxite.

According to Camila, it is critically important that not only light bulbs, but any waste, go through proper recycling in order to avoid potentially permanent damages.

“In addition to lamps, it is extremely important to properly dispose of other materials. Imagine if we add up every item in every house that fails to go to the right place? What if all this goes to a dump? Can you imagine the damage to be caused for future generations? In fact, our planet is already running out of natural resources. If we don’t address this issue now, it could become irreversible,” she warned.

Reciclus also has an environmental education program in place that distributes to public and private schools free educational materials on the importance of recycling light bulbs. Approximately 40,000 students have benefited in cities in Mato Grosso do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná.