Secondary lead is recovered from scrapped lead-acid batteries, old lead-sheathed cables and sheets and a variety of industrial and metallurgical wastes. A significant share of lead output from secondary sources derives from smelters that also treat lead concentrates, so-called primary smelters, which makes the task of estimating the overall scale of secondary lead production more difficult. Estimating the total volume of lead produced from recycling of scrapped batteries is further complicated by the fact that some of this activity still occurs in the informal sector in a number of countries.
CHR Metals calculates that secondary lead production accounted for around 50% of the global total of refined lead production in 1990, but that this share has now risen to just over 75%. This represents an increase from around 3Mt in 1990 to 10Mt in 2018. At the same time global lead mine production has grown from 3.2Mt (lead in lead and bulk concentrates) to only 3.4Mt in 2018.
This paper will trace the development of secondary lead production over the past 30 years highlighting regulatory changes and the shift in regional patterns of output. More particular focus will be on the changes in China over the past 15 years and, more recently, elsewhere in Asia.
Reasons for under-reporting of recycled lead production will be examined.
International trade in lead-acid battery scrap and other lead-bearing secondary materials will be addressed and consideration given to the environmental concerns and about such trade.
CHR Metals’ outlook for lead mine and refined lead production to 2030 will be presented.