The global economy has long followed a linear model, where raw materials are extracted and used once to manufacture products that are then discarded. This ultimately contributes to the depletion of natural resources and to progressive environmental harm. In response to this alarming evolution, both industries and governments have increasingly felt the urgent need to transition towards a sustainable model of circular economy.
The Linear Economy Model (Source: Circular Innovation Council)
By contrast with the linear economy, a circular economy focuses on designing products that use fewer raw materials, have longer lifespan and are more repairable.
Such an approach keeps resources in circulation much longer, and specific investments are made in the economic infrastructure to create markets for recycled materials, which can then be repurposed and used to create optimized products again.
The Circular Economy Model (Source: Circular Innovation Council)
Battery recycling is an example of the successful implementation of a strong circular economy. Most household batteries are made of simple metals and chemicals (such as steel or copper) and we’re able to reuse these components to manufacture common items like kitchen appliances or bicycles.
Certain batteries (like rechargeable batteries) have rare metal components – for example, lithium is becoming increasingly important for laptops and electric vehicles, so we recycle as many used lithium batteries as possible to make new ones. As a result, every battery recycled is not only a gesture towards protecting the environment, but also a part of the circular economy effort to reuse materials and reduce the footprint of our economy.
Economic and Environmental Benefits
The benefits of embracing a circular economy model are undeniable. In terms of economic considerations, recycling raw materials or components helps extend their cycle for a significantly longer time, thus decreasing the need (and cost) of extracting new raw materials.
It also helps mitigate indirect costs linked to price volatility, and market availability. This applies particularly for some of the rarer metal components present in certain types of batteries, such as lithium or nickel.
From an environmental perspective, circular practices can combat climate change by reducing embodied carbon emissions, which account for 45% of Canada’s carbon targets.
The Canadian Council of Academics highlights that circular economy practices could help Canada meet 16 of 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Adopting such circular economy measures would reduce pressure for increased resource extraction and processing, as well as reduce pollution, water waste and biodiversity loss.
The Growing Challenge of E-Waste
A key pillar of the circular economy is the reduction of waste, which emphasizes a shift towards more mindful and responsible consumption practices.
Among all the waste that an economy produces, e-waste has become one of the fastest growing segments in the past few years. According to a recent study from the University of Waterloo, Canada’s electronic waste has more than tripled in the past two decades, and is expected to continue increasing.
E-waste comprises a wide array of unwanted electronic equipment and their associated power sources, including smartphones, laptops, cables, and batteries. The materials used in them require energy to mine and manufacture.
E-waste also contains hazardous materials which require the responsible disposal and management. Some materials within the batteries can leach into the soil and groundwater when not properly disposed of, posing a danger to the environment and public health.
However, if they are recycled properly instead, these materials can be recovered and reused in new products. For example, metals such as lithium, cobalt, and lead can be recovered from used batteries and repurposed for the manufacture of new batteries or a variety of new products.
How do you make recycling batteries a part of the circular economy?
Batteries play an integral role in our daily lives, powering everything from cell phones, to laptops, garden tools, and electric bikes. Managing end-of-life batteries responsibly is as crucial as recycling e-waste.
When electronics reach the end of their life cycle, meaning they are no longer usable or re-sellable, recycle them properly to allow the reliable resources to be reclaimed.
For devices with removable batteries, detach them before recycling. Batteries require separate recycling due to their specific components. Properly recycling batteries allows for the recovery of valuable materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel, which can then be used to manufacture new batteries, closing the loop and reducing the need for raw materials extraction.
This is why Call2Recycle and other recycling organizations continue implementing new programs and initiatives to build a strong Canadian circular economy, focused on reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, repurposing, or recycling as many products and materials as possible – to avoid the environmental impact of manufacturing new ones.
By embracing circular economy principles and waste reduction strategies, we can work towards a sustainable and responsible approach to minimize waste and conserve valuable resources for future generations.