Securing the future safe use of lead is key to ensure Europe remains a centre of excellence in circular economy
By Roland Harings, Group CEO of Aurubis
The carrier metal properties of lead make the use of lead metallurgy an efficient way to recycle a broad range of valuable metals needed for today’s sustainable technologies. Metals are infinitely recyclable, making Europe’s interconnected metals sector a key player in Europe’s circular economy – the home-grown metals recycling industry is in fact one of the most advanced and efficient in the world.
As Europe works toward a truly sustainable business environment with its Circular Economy Action Plan, the ability to efficiently recycle metals is becoming increasingly important. Lead in particular plays an essential part in the recovery and recycling of numerous critical metals and materials from electronics waste, circuit boards, catalytic converters, various industrial residues and other complex products. Lead therefore has a pivotal role in Europe’s circular economy. Potential loss of lead metallurgy would make the EU circular economy difficult to realise, as it would diminish the EU’s capacity to recycle complex materials as well as supply critical metals using its own sources.
The increasing complexity of products require an industrial network of metallurgical production to maximise recovery of all elements in end-of-life products. Aurubis’ recycling has state-of-the-art technologies to return highly complex materials to the economic cycle and enable a wide range of metals such as copper, precious metals, lead, tin, nickel, selenium and tellurium, to be put to new use. Demand for non-ferrous metals is increasing exponentially, in line with demand for technologies such as batteries, electric vehicles, and solar panels. The World Bank has projected that 300% more metals will be needed by the world’s wind turbines by 2050, 200% more for solar panels, and 1,000% more for batteries.
High environmental, safety and health requirements are implemented on a continuously ambitious level when working with lead. Our operations apply the best available technologies and comply with long-standing framework of legislation, specifically addressing the occupational risk of working with lead from production, through use and end-of-life recovery from waste. In reality, our industry’s exposure management performance now far exceeds these minimum legal requirements and has established proactive, voluntary targets for reduced employee exposure.
Considering all these factors, REACH authorisation listing of lead would not lead to additional health and environmental benefits. It would rather have unnecessary and severe consequences on the non-ferrous metals industry which is integral to producing the materials needed for Europe’s clean future. Authorisation of lead metal would lead to loss of recycling capacity for complex materials, with the very real threat that these materials would then be landfilled or exported for recycling. Not only could this have an overall negative environmental impact, but it could also harm the EU’s position as a global leader in recycling.
There is a need to secure the future safe use of lead, otherwise, Europe will not be able to produce and recycle strategic metals for the green transition.
Cover image: Lead ingots leave the lead refinery in Hamburg, copyright: Aurubis
Read more on how the proposal to include lead on the REACH Authorisation List would stifle innovation and investment here.