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Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5086

Comparison of the U.S. Lead Recycling Industry in 1998 and 2011

By David R. Wilburn

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (720 KB)Abstract

Since 1998, the structure of the lead recycling industry has changed and trade patterns of the domestic lead recycling industry have shifted. Although the domestic demand for lead has remained relatively constant since 1998, production of lead has increasingly shifted to the domestic secondary lead industry. The last primary lead smelter in the United States closed at the end of 2013, at which time the secondary lead industry became the sole source of domestic lead production. The amount of lead recovered annually from scrap batteries generally increased from about 900,000 metric tons in 1995 to more than 1,100,000 metric tons in 2012. The percentage of total U.S. lead production attributed to battery scrap increased from 65 percent in 1995 to 87 percent in 2012.

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect in 1994, trade patterns among the United States, Canada, and Mexico have changed for recycled lead products. In the late 1990s, the principal sources of lead waste and scrap not derived from batteries were Canada, Mexico, and South America; by 2011, the principal sources were Central America and Asia, with decreasing amounts from Canada and South America. Since 1998, the amount of lead derived from imported batteries and scrap from Canada has ranged from 50 to 90 percent, and the amount imported from Mexico has ranged from 3 to 20 percent. Canada received about 50 percent of the lead contained in spent lead-acid batteries and scrap exported from the United States in 1998, and Mexico received about 4 percent. By 2012, however, the amount of lead scrap exported to Canada had decreased to about 10 percent, and the amount of lead-based scrap products, primarily batteries, exported to Mexico from the United States had increased to 47 percent. Vertical integration of the domestic secondary lead industry and higher costs required to implement more stringent ambient air standards in the United States have led some companies to shift lead recycling operations to Mexico. U.S. secondary lead producers are increasingly competing with Canadian and Mexican facilities for market share.

First posted September 16, 2014

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Suggested citation:

Wilburn, D.R., 2014, Comparison of the U.S. lead recycling industry in 1998 and 2011: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5086, 20 p.,

ISSN 2328–0328 (online)




Sources of Domestic Lead

Battery Scrap Collection and Processing

Lead Emissions Standards for Lead Scrap Recycling Facilities

Lead Scrap Recovery Rates and Recycling Efficiency

Trade Patterns

Outlook for Lead Recycling

References Cited

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