Sorting batteries? This is how we do it
Tienen is the capital not only of sugar cube, but also of batteries. Besides the home of the Bebat offices and Villa Pilla (the house of batteries), all batteries you deposit in a Bebat collection point end up here to be sorted at Sortbat. Every day at this site, around 500,000 batteries roll across the sorting belt. Let's go along and discover the sorting process in 7 steps...
In the container park, at the supermarket or in the DIY store? Wherever you hand in your used batteries in Belgium, they all end up in Tienen. They arrive at Sortbat in barrels of around 60 kg. But sorting batteries... why is that necessary, anyway? Easy. Because not all batteries are created equal: each type of material requires a different type of recycling.
A crane empties the barrels into a large container. From here, a conveyor belt takes them for manual pre-sorting. Along this conveyor belt, staff remove large packs such as batteries from computers, drilling machines, laptops, phones, etc. from the flow of waste. Those packs are sorted into 4 tidy groups based on their composition: rechargeable lithium, alkaline, lead and nickel cadmium.
Strange but true: cans, food scraps, paper, and even nappies, light bulbs, sharp objects and injection needles sometimes end up among the batteries. They are all removed and sorted according to the rules of the game. We all have a part to play, please use the barrels only to dispose of used batteries.
Strange but true: cans, food scraps, paper, and even nappies, light bulbs, sharp objects and injection needles sometimes end up among the batteries.
After the manual pre-sorting, the batteries thunder on down a conveyor belt for manual sorting. A laser counts the number of batteries racing past, so that the conveyor belt can maintain a pace that is comfortable for the employees. Four people take care of the next stage of sorting:
- They remove any remaining objects: plastic, ink cartridges, medicines, etc. Here they cut open the well-known Bebat bags and store them separately for the monthly tombola.
- They take alkaline, nickel cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH) and rechargeable lithium batteries off the conveyor belt. They pluck out button cell batteries with an aluminium or stainless steel casing.
All batteries that are still on the belt will end up at the magnetic sorting station. Only zinc batteries with a zinc casing are not magnetic and end up in a big box. They can be recycled straight away. Zinc batteries with an iron casing will be removed from the belt by the magnets.
After the magnetic sorting, we now get to the mechanical sorting. The batteries are chased at breakneck speed by a shaker screen and sorted according to shape and size:
- button cell batteries
- 9 volt batteries
- 4.5 volt batteries
- AA and AAA batteries
- C and D batteries
Finally, each type of battery goes through a high-tech machine for a round of automatic sorting. Based on their measurements, weight and magnetic resonance, the machine detects the chemical composition of each battery. In all there are 8 possible compositions. The machine takes the batteries apart and sorts them by composition. This way they can be forwarded to the right processor for recycling.
Each type is recycled by a specific process. After all, batteries contain valuable and reusable materials. Samples show that at Sortbat, we have in recent years sorted 99.5% of the batteries correctly, a European record. And we are rightly proud of that, for the better the sorting, the better the recycling!
Would you like to take a closer look at the sorting process at Sortbat?
National Geographic made a unique film clip about Sortbat. Discover it here below!