ILA Blog

Our man in the field… closer to home

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 South Kensington.

The Great Exhibition Road Festival at Imperial College London staged an exhibition on the safe recycling of used lead batteries where Brian - an expert in lead batteries and recycling - relayed examples of his experience travelling the globe advising developing nations as part of ILA’s work with global partners including Pure Earth and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Brian and ILA have spent the past two decades helping advise companies and governments about the health, environmental and financial benefits of sound used lead-acid battery (ULAB) recycling, particularly in countries with “informal” recycling operations and few environmental and health regulations. 

The value of lead in ULAB as a commodity means informal recycling facilities have evolved in some countries creating unhealthy conditions for workers and communities as well as contaminating local environments.

ILA supports and helps fund Brian’s work as he helps bring all recycling plants up to internationally agreed health, safety and environmental standards.

A team at Imperial College London (ICL) lead by Dr David Payne and Dr Olga Hekseman are developing a low-cost, hydro-metallurgical ULAB recycling process for small and medium sized enterprises that are intended for use in those countries where currently the “informal” sector thrives. In order to possibly field test the process, ICL are working with Pure Earth’s Indian Country Director, Promila Sharma to ascertain pilot plant options.

 (l-r) – David Payne and Ola Hekselman, Imperial College London; Promila Sharma, Pure Earth India and Brian Wilson, ILA.

Improving standards of used lead battery recycling and discouraging informal recycling in low- and middle-income countries is at the heart of Brian’s professional mission. Earlier this year he joined an expert panel at a meeting held at the Conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions (CoP) in Geneva, Switzerland, to outline programmes to help raise the environmental standards for recycling.

While lead exposure in some low- and middle-income countries is linked to informal lead battery recycling, more than 99% of ULAB are recycled in Europe and North America within strict environmental and occupational health legislation using the latest technologies

In a presentation to delegates attending the Basel Convention’s Conference of the Parties (CoP), organised by Dr Desiree Narvaez, the Head of the UNEP Global Initiative for the sound management of lead, explained how used lead batteries can and are being recycled in a sustainable environmentally sound manner with due regard for safety and the health of workers and populations living close to a recycling plant.

Dr Narvaez was joined on the panel by experts including the World Health Organization’s Dr Joanna Tempowski; Drew McCartor from Pure Earth; and Mathy Stanislaus from the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance

Dr Desiree Narvaez, Head of the UNEP Global Initiative for the environmentally sound management of ULAB, and to her right, Brian Wilson

Delegates heard from various representatives such as Yun Insani from the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment about work undertaken through the UNEP initiative which brought technical expertise to lead recyclers and the ministry regulators in Indonesia. This included two sponsored workshops for Government Regulators and ULAB recyclers run by the Jakarta based Basel Convention Regional Centre for Asia and with assistance from ILA.

Concluding the event, Jacqueline Alvarez from the UN Environment programme told delegates that lead batteries will continue to be part of our future energy mix, especially with the growing market for green energy storage. Therefore, the responsible and sustainable recycling of used lead batteries is essential to mitigate the harmful and adverse impact of improper informal recycling.

ILA remains committed to stewardship work across the low and middle-income countries promoting the safe and sustainable recycling of lead batteries.

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