Only about 4 percent to 5 percent of lithium-ion batteries were recycled in the EU in 2010, based on the number of batteries sold and what was collected.
Regulations in Great Britain and the EU may have succeeded in keeping smart phone batteries out of landfills, according to The Guardian, but their precious metals are left in limbo. Rather than recycle old mobile phones, they tend to be kept unused in drawers, with the batteries intact.
Sony introduced the first rechargeable lithium-ion battery in 1991, replacing more toxic ones made with nickel cadmium. The main metal component of lithium-ion batteries is cobalt, accounting for 10-20 percent of the battery, plus small amounts of nickel, copper and aluminum. These can be and are recycled. In the US, manufacturers are planning to launch a recycling and collection program.
The metals are typically recovered in a high-temperature process that fuses them together as an alloy, sometimes using the plastic casing as a fuel. Umicore is the largest recycler of lithium-ion batteries in Europe and also a major manufacturer of battery parts for Asia’s smartphone manufacturers.
It uses this process and believes that recovering metals this way has a 90 percent smaller ecological footprint than primary mining.