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Chart: China is trouncing the US on battery recycling

In Asia and Europe, policy is driving the growth of lithium-ion battery recycling. The U.S. still lacks rules that would spur industry momentum.

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format. Canary thanks Natural Power for its support of this feature.

China is the global leader in recycling of lithium-ion batteries, far outpacing all other nations. As of late 2021, China had more than three times as much existing and planned lithium-ion battery recycling capacity as the U.S., according to a recent paper.

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Deployment of lithium-ion batteries is expected to skyrocket in the coming years — in electric vehicles and in energy storage systems for homes, businesses and the grid. Recycling these batteries at the end of their useful lives is important to keep hazardous waste out of the environment. But there are critical national-security and economic reasons to do it too, as Canary’s Julian Spector recently discussed on The Carbon Copy podcast. Countries that can reclaim valuable minerals and metals from spent batteries — notably lithium, cobalt, copper and nickel — can lessen their reliance on foreign sources and potentially cut materials costs. It’s better to mine a waste stream than to mine the earth. 

In the U.S., lithium-ion battery recycling is a nascent industry, but it’s starting to develop, as Spector reports. Policies that would support or even super-charge the industry have not yet been adopted, however — and in most states and Congress, they’re barely even being considered. 

Meanwhile, the European Union has banned landfilling of batteries since 2006, and it’s poised to implement new rules to make auto manufacturers responsible for recycling old batteries from their EVs, require new lithium-ion batteries to contain certain amounts of recycled content, and require new batteries to be designed in ways that make them easier to recycle. 

China too has rules that have spurred the creation of its lithium-ion battery recycling sector. The country began promoting lithium-ion battery recycling through policy in 2012 and has adopted more measures since, including one in 2018 that requires manufacturers to collaborate with recycling companies to improve the recycling process. 

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Maria Virginia Olano is editorial and research associate at Canary Media.