As part of his $10 billion zero-emission vehicle plan to fight climate change, California Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to phase out gasoline-powered cars in favor of electric powered ones by 2035. And President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, passed Aug. 7 by the U.S. Senate, would give Americans a tax credit of up to $7,500 to defray the cost of buying an electric vehicle.
But an Instagram post claims difficulty with recycling lithium-ion batteries, the fuel cells in electric vehicles, will render this push toward zero-emission vehicles impractical.
A video posted June 9 and shared by others features a woman talking about California officials advocating for more renewable energy and for residents to drive electric cars.
The woman makes several claims, including that the push for more electric cars is not a “sustainable solution” as there isn’t a plant in California that can recycle their batteries once they die.
“There’s only three (electric car battery recycling plants) in the United States, and they can only recycle about 10% of the materials, which means the balance will go into landfills,” she says. “This could do more damage to our planet in a matter of 10 years than fossil fuels have done in 100 years.”
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. Instagram is owned by Facebook’s parent company, Meta. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
While the woman was right in saying California doesn’t have a plant dedicated to recycling electric car batteries, the situation isn’t as dire as she claimed. The woman was also wrong in her statement about the recyclability of lithium-ion car batteries.
Getting rid of electric car batteries
Most electric car batteries last at least 100,000 miles before their ability to hold a charge seriously degrades, according to Carfax. With Americans driving an average of 13,476 miles each year, that translates to at least seven years of reliable service.
Most batteries will go for significantly longer than the initial 100,000 miles before dying.
The first major wave of electric car batteries dying off is expected to happen within the next 10 to 15 years, the BBC reported.
Unlike lead-acid batteries, which are small and easily recyclable, electric cars use battery packs that are larger and composed of hundreds of individual lithium-ion batteries. The hazardous materials within a battery pack can spark a fire or explode if handled or disposed of incorrectly.
Also, California lacks an electric car battery recycling plant; there are only five such facilities currently operating in the U.S.
However, Alissa Kendall, a UC Davis civil and environmental engineering professor, told PolitiFact that California not having a recycling facility was a “particularly irrelevant” point, as there are “many things we recycle or process in the U.S. economy that don’t have a site in every state.”
Kendall said Nevada-based Redwood Materials launched an electric car battery recycling program in California in February and partnered with California car dealerships and battery dismantlers to collect lithium-ion batteries. The batteries will be sent to Redwood’s recycling facility in Nevada.
Kendall was the lead author of a California Environmental Protection Agency report in May that said electric car battery recycling was a relatively new, but growing industry.The report also made several recommendations to the California Legislature for improving electric car battery recycling.
Meanwhile, there are several ways to recycle electric car batteries, all of which reclaim significantly more material than the 10% the Instagram video cited.
One method is through smelting, which melts a battery down at a high temperature until its materials separate from one another. Because this method requires a lot of greenhouse gas-producing energy but recovers only about 40% to 50% of a battery’s material, it’s less widely used, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported..
The other two recycling methods, which are more widely used, involve shredding lithium-ion batteries into small pieces.
A shredded battery can be recycled directly, by removing and separating its parts by hand, or through hydrometallurgy, in which the batteries’ pieces are submerged in a solution and chemically separated. These shredding methods can recover up to 90% to 95% of a battery’s components.
Kendall said lithium-ion batteries’ worst-case environmental impact would still be less than fossil fuels’.
“While we certainly can improve mining practices and recycling systems for every material and product in our economy, there are very few measures whereby oil and gas extraction and refining are less harmful than lithium extraction (for electric car batteries),” she said.
A woman in an Instagram video claims California’s push for electric cars is not sustainable in part because California does not have a recycling facility that can handle the lithium-ion batteries in cars and that the recycling facilities in the country can recycle only 10% of the batteries’ material.
While California so far has no lithium-ion battery recycling plant, the California Environmental Protection Agency report said lithium-ion battery recycling is still a fairly new industry with room for growth. Also, companies from other states are partnering with California to recycle its batteries.
Furthermore, current recycling methods can recover from half to up to 95% of the material used lithium-ion batteries, far more than the post’s claim of a 10% recovery rate.
We rate this claim False.