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Scrap Battery Disposal

Suddenly it seems like everyone is selling scrap batteries. With regulatory changes and an increase in worldwide demand for lead, the scrap battery market we know today was years in the making. Not more than five years ago, warehouse managers were happy just to have them removed for free or in exchange for credit toward a new battery purchase.

Since then, scrap batteries have become an important revenue stream for the material handling industry, as customers large and small commit to finding the best sales outlet.

Fork Truck Battery

A Brief History
Beginning in the late 1970s, regulators pushed hard for more environmental controls on the battery recycling industry. By restricting emission allowances, over the next two decades the industry struggled to adapt and many smelters closed, reducing the total number in the United States from a peak of 65 to only 12. Having so few smelters decreased the demand for scrap batteries and drove prices down. In addition, Superfund cleanup sites made anyone who delivered into a non-compliant facility responsible for the cleanup of that facility. This created a fear in the battery recycling industry.

People stopped handling batteries. Recyclers and battery companies would even charge a few cents per pound to remove spent forklift batteries from a customer’s location. It was barely worth the effort to move them. Some old batteries were worth less than five cents per pound. This may seem hard to believe given that current prices have gone higher than 40 cents.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s when industry leaders, working hard with the EPA, passed laws creating exemptions for hauling batteries as non-hazmat and forcing due diligence, making recycling a profitable venture while at the same time helping the environment. The Superfund Recycling Equity Act of 1999 exempted liability of people involved in the sale and shipping of scrap batteries for the purpose of recycling. Confidence was regained. The construction of new smelters began and the export market started to grow.

The recent increase in price on all metals can be linked to the demand placed on world resources by China. Even inside a recession, we have seen record values on scrap. The increase in price has made it down to the end-user and alerted the industry about the value of their spent electric fork truck batteries. What was once considered a nuisance is now considered a valuable commodity.

Options for Disposal
The scrap battery business is now an established market, and knowing where to go with your batteries is as important as ever. There are a couple of options to consider and specific upsides and drawbacks to each.

Having a customer send scrap batteries back to the distributor for credits toward the purchase of new batteries is a good option if the customer is unlikely to acquire a full truckload of batteries or has limited space in his warehouse. Of course, with an exchange, you don’t get the additional revenue stream or directly benefit from rising lead prices.

If you are acquiring full truckloads (44,000 pounds) of scrap batteries, then using a broker is an option. Brokers have volume contracts with smelters and can pay a premium price. Additionally, brokers can help a customer adhere to packaging guidelines dictated by DOT, and they have done the due diligence required by the EPA to ensure that the batteries will be recycled according to regulation. This is, of course, only a viable option if the volume of scrap batteries is high; brokers are not a good option for lower amounts.

The markets are strong and should be for some time. So no matter which option you choose, now is a great time to start making money on those old batteries.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Ben Levitt Meet the Author
Ben Levitt is principal partner at Regency Metals, located in Charleston, South Carolina, and on the Web at www.regencymetalsonline.com.

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