Accra, July 2017: On 21st of July, the managers of three secondary lead-smelters signed commitments to work with the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency to improve their operations. The step followed assessments, trainings and audits conducted by the SRI project in cooperation with Ghanaian authorities, industries and the International Lead Association (ILA).

Lead-acid batteries are used in cars, trucks and as power back-up for many electrical and electronic devices. While these batteries are used all over the world, many African countries have a comparably high consumption. Reasons are quite short battery life-times caused by hot temperatures and bad roads. In addition, many businesses and households use lead-acid batteries for storing energy from the grid or small solar panels to gain some independence from the often insufficient and unreliable power supply.

But lead-acid batteries also require attention when they reach their end-of-life. The batteries contain sulfuric acid, lead and lead-oxide, which are all hazardous to human health and the environment if not handled properly. Due to the value of the contained lead, recycling is very profitable, but unfortunately in many countries the batteries are recycled in backyards or in sub-standard smelters causing severe and potentially life-threatening emissions. This problem has been noticed by the international community in 2016, when the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) passed a resolution tabled by Burkina Faso that encourages states “to develop national strategies […] to ensure that those batteries are recycled in an environmentally sound manner” and “to adequately address releases, emissions and exposure from waste lead-acid batteries, including recycling, e.g. through appropriate standards and criteria.”

Within the SRI project, Ghana has already mapped its lead-acid battery sector, including annual volumes, current management practices and involvement of companies. This Baseline Assessment Study revealed various shortcomings and problems and led to a follow-up process of the Ghanaian authorities and the SRI project:

In July 2017, the SRI project and an expert of the International Lead Association (ILA) trained regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency in Ghana (EPA), Factories Inspectorate Department (FID) as well as the managers of the various local battery recycling facilities in sound lead-acid battery recycling processes, including best practices for emission control, health and safety.

Participants of the training on sound lead-acid battery recycling processes

The regulators used their freshly gained knowledge to conduct audits of all lead-acid battery recycling facilities operating in Ghana. On the basis of these audits, EPA and the SRI-project developed improvement plans, indicating specific steps and milestones for each company to reduce emissions and to provide a safe environment for workers and neighboring communities. All companies indicated their support of these plans and on 21st of July, the managers of three secondary lead-smelters signed agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency to be committed to the environmentally sound management of used lead-acid batteries and to work in partnership with the EPA on all necessary improvements.

According to Dr. Gilbert Adie, a scientist from Nigeria and an observer from the Basel Convention Coordinating Center for the African Region, the industry commitments and the EPA’s strategy to require all companies to improve up to the same level are unique in the region: He proposes that comparable efforts and strategies are necessary in many more countries within the region. In his words: “We hope that Ghana will now demonstrate how to successfully green this recycling industry.”

Mr. Lambert Faabeluon, Director for Standards and Compliance Enforcement at EPA and National Focal Point for the Basel Convention in Ghana stressed that “it is not enough to ask only one facility to improve. We want the whole industry to improve and to come to a fair and level playing field on the basis of ambitious environmental standards. Ghana needs an active recycling industry. But profits should not be made on the expenses of public health and the environment.”