ILA Blog

Socrates and the philosophy of the circular economy

By Lisa Allen, REACH Manager

THE EU has published an update on its progress towards becoming a truly circular economy, and it reads a bit like this: a good start, but there’s a long way to go.
 
Climate change and the pressure to achieve lower carbon economies and societies is driving the need to transform business models, adjust environmental policies and introduce new thinking to “close the loop” and create value from waste.
 
European Commission's Circular Economy 
 
Metals, even those with hazardous properties, play an important part in achieving this ambition. A drive to achieve a “non-toxic environment” by restricting their use in Europe risks our ability to use their unique properties to enable a transition to a low carbon economy. 
 
Which brings me to Socrates. Not the moral philosopher himself, but a team of EU scientists who are targeting ground-breaking ways to enhance the potential of urban mining and metals recycling to recover economically important and critical materials.
 
They have published a Policy Brief outlining how metals such as lead have unique properties that themselves unlock the ability to recover many other critical and rare elements by acting as a carrier enabling high-tech recycling from waste electrical equipment, various industrial residues, mixed metal scrap and more. 
 
They describe the EU Circular Economy aims as a bicycle whose wheel will unceremoniously fall off if you start removing important metal spokes, such as lead, which underpin many processes, functions and entire industries. 
 
End of the "CE ride" in case of inhibited lead metallurgy, Credit: Socrates
 
This whole idea may feel like something of a contradiction, allying hazardous substances with achieving a green nirvana. In fact the sort of philosophical dilemma Socrates himself might have enjoyed conjuring with.
 
The Policy Brief has a bold title: Lead Metallurgy is Fundamental to the Circular Economy. The central message is key to deciding if and how the EU economy can achieve circularity. And the crux of it is this. Metals recyclers extract everything from gallium, indium, used in mobile phones and solar panels, to precious metals including silver and gold, and even platinum, used in catalytic converters. But they all have one thing in common. They need lead, with its ability to dissolve and carry a multitude of elements to do it. 
 
The good news for the Circular Economy in Europe is that the home-grown metals recycling industry is one of the most advanced and efficient in the world, creating new ‘green’ jobs and pushing the boundaries of innovation. 
 
The bad news is that not all pieces of the EU regulatory framework jigsaw fit with Circular Economy – yet. So, when European chemicals regulators tick a box saying restrict the use of X or Y substance, it invariably has a knock-on effect which can, if un-checked, ambush the entire approach to closed-loop EU recycling.
 
And it is why formulaic limits on the use of important substances must not be allowed to derail the Circular Economy or future economic growth. Industry and governments can work together to achieve the right balance of controlling risks with the unique benefits those substances enable.  
 
I’ve not doubt that this approach is something Socrates himself would approve of, philosophically speaking. 
 

ILA Blog


Industry committed to improving recycling standards worldwide - 09/09/2019

For more than two decades the International Lead Association (ILA) has been supporting the lead battery recycling industry with technical expertise advising businesses, governments and … Continue Reading

Ensuring the environmentally sound, safe and sustainable recycling of used lead batteries is a joint effort - 05/09/2019

It is a pivotal time for the global lead and lead battery industries. As the world moves towards a more sustainable, responsible, and environmentally-sound future, … Continue Reading

Innovative ways to manage lead exposures at H. J. Enthoven & Sons - 20/08/2019

 By Mark Ashmore (H. J. Enthoven & Sons, United Kingdom)  As legislation inevitably catches up with the science of human health effects, what are the challenges … Continue Reading

Our man in the field… closer to home - 05/08/2019

Brian Wilson ILA’s battery safety and recycling expert Brian Wilson has exchanged the jungles of Colombia and the recycling plants of Nairobi for the streets of … Continue Reading

Socrates’ view on lead in a Circular Economy - 29/07/2019

By Annelies Malfliet, KU Leuven If generation were in a straight line only, and there were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return into … Continue Reading

Industry must work together to defend its future - 26/06/2019

By Dr Andy Bush Our industry is at something of a turning point as we look ahead, which is exactly what we did at the 21st International … Continue Reading

Coming together for a sustainable future for the lead industry - 31/05/2019

By Dr Andy Bush With just two weeks until Pb2019, ILA is readying itself to welcome over 150 delegates at the premier event for analysis and … Continue Reading

Europe needs a new industrial strategy in which to champion batteries - 03/04/2019

By Dr Andy Bush Concerned by China, the EU is rapidly looking for a new industrial strategy to match the perceived power and influence of a … Continue Reading

Global recycling day: how lead and lead batteries support green growth - 18/03/2019

By Dr Andy Bush   One of the pressing questions for all businesses grappling with how to protect the earth’s natural resources and environment for the long … Continue Reading

Promoting and supporting best practice recycling in Nairobi, Kenya - 11/03/2019

By Brian Wilson   ILA’s responsible battery recycling expert Brian Wilson is in Kenya, primarily to attend the upcoming United Nations Environment Assembly, where he will make … Continue Reading

In Europe lead batteries will help charge a low carbon future - 19/02/2019

By Dr Andy Bush With elections around the corner, Europe is not just facing one year of political upheaval, but decades of significant transformation as it … Continue Reading

As climate change tops the list of concerns at Davos, governments must move quickly to back battery technologies - 24/01/2019

By Dr Andy Bush As global decision makers consider the state of the world at their gathering in Davos, climate change and environmental concerns feature in … Continue Reading

The year ahead promises change and new opportunities - 01/01/2019

By Dr Andy Bush As we enter a new year it will without doubt be a significant period of new challenges and opportunities - and change … Continue Reading

Innovation is the key to tackling climate change - 03/12/2018

By Dr Alistair Davidson AS politicians and experts gather in Poland to consider how to tackle global warming, battery experts are continuing to see how innovation … Continue Reading

Microgrid experiment is part of global battery energy storage bid to boost electrification - 09/11/2018

By Dr Alistair Davidson ON a university campus in rural Missouri, a partnership project between industry and academia is paving the way for homes to adopt … Continue Reading

Lead batteries provide the blueprint for circular economy and sustainability goals - 31/10/2018

By Dr Alistair Davidson Today we celebrate World Cities Day, a UN designated day for the recognition and celebration of urbanisation worldwide, with the motto ‘Better … Continue Reading

The European Battery Alliance is one year old; it is time to embrace all battery technologies - 15/10/2018

By Dr Andy Bush   This month marks the one-year anniversary of the European Battery Alliance (EBA). With energy storage in Europe increasing by 49% in 2017, … Continue Reading

How lead batteries help achieve a greener world - 25/09/2018

Dr Alistair Davidson Last week, Zero Emissions Day focused the world’s attention on the goal of reducing emissions and encourages and celebrates opportunities to achieve this … Continue Reading

Solar power and lead batteries energise the Navajo Nation - 23/08/2018

Dr Alistair Davidson In one of the most sun-drenched regions of North America, ALABC member company Crown Battery is helping deliver a sustainable, renewable energy storage … Continue Reading

The EU is short-circuiting its battery plans - 27/06/2018

Dr Andy Bush ONE of the most high-profile EU Commissioners (and forthcoming candidate for the EU presidency) Maroš Šefčovič, has been in Washington D.C., US, speaking … Continue Reading

A plan for all seasons - 21/05/2018

Dr Andy Bush   THE vast legislative juggernaut that is the EU moved up a gear this week with the latest announcement of its package of measures … Continue Reading

Our man in Colombia - 15/05/2018

Brian Wilson   CALI is a thriving city in the north-west of a South American country once renowned for its reputation for drug cartels and conflict.   Times have … Continue Reading

Letter from America: the heat is on - 10/05/2018

Dr Andy Bush   I HAVE spent a week deep in the Arizona desert with the US’s leading battery manufacturers discussing the opportunities and threats facing the … Continue Reading

Revolutionary spirit energises Boston - 02/05/2018

Dr Alistair Davidson   AS the birthplace of the American revolution it was fitting that Boston, Massachusetts, should host a conference about a very different, but no … Continue Reading

Something fishy’s going on in Sweden - 25/04/2018

Dr Andy Bush   The European Union is currently consulting on a proposal which could, if supported, restrict the use of lead metal in products.   This would be … Continue Reading

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing? - 23/04/2018

Dr Steve Binks   Businesses welcome good regulation, but sometimes large organisations such as the EU are faced with the left hand not always being aware what … Continue Reading

Follow the star in the East - 03/04/2018

Dr Alistair Davidson   SAUDI ARABIA has signalled another dramatic step in its transformation from being an oil state to a renewable energy empire, by investing $200billion … Continue Reading

A bright future for lead - 29/03/2018

Dr Andy Bush   I spoke at two conferences last week, one organised by analysts from the commodities group CRU, the other an event for Metal Bulletin. … Continue Reading

Lead batteries: essential energy for a greener world - 16/03/2018

Dr Andy Bush   The huge increase in demand for safe and reliable batteries to store energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind heralds a … Continue Reading

China forges ahead in energy storage using advanced lead batteries - 15/03/2018

Dr Alistair Davidson   One of my early impressions as I tour China’s vast industrial heartlands is the country’s growing demand for electricity from renewable sources to … Continue Reading
Lisa Allen

Please complete the following details to download the Lead BLM Tool