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Let’s recap: 2020, according to battery recycler Van Peperzeel

Johan van Peperzeel and his business partner Huib van Deutekom.

How has this year treated recyclers around the world? In a new weekly interview series, we pose this question to various entrepreneurs. This time, it’s Dutch battery recycling specialist Johan van Peperzeel sharing his experiences of a ‘rocky’ 2020.

How would you describe 2020 in general?

‘Challenging because of the fire we had in March. We had to renew the whole sorting hall,  unfortunately. That caused a drop in productivity that month. The pandemic is also taking a heavy toll on everybody. Because of this we have had serious challenges in getting sorted lithium and Li-ion batteries recycled in Europe.’

What would you say were the highlights?

‘The most positive thing is that we renewed our contract with Dutch collection organisation Stibat, which runs for the next three years. I’m also glad we were able to continue operating almost as usual in the aftermath of the fire so the drop in production wasn’t that bad. And it’s good news that the vaccine for Covid-19 is coming soon.’

Is your view of the global battery recycling market still positive in the wake of the coronavirus?

‘Until now, we haven’t been impacted too much by the pandemic. It’s more challenging now due to a fall in battery recycling capacity throughout Europe. At the same time, more batteries in the Netherlands need to be recycled. This is one of the biggest issues that has to be resolved as soon as possible. Everybody is working on I and we hope that with the start of 2021 we can export a little bit more than today.’

How did battery recycling develop this year?

‘Generally speaking, I’d say developments in our sector are OK. The only I regret is that we can’t set up a recycling line dedicated to lithium-ion batteries at our existing facility in Lelystad as we had anticipated. It seems that we may have to find another location, which isn’t ideal considering we have just renovated the site as a result of the fire. We are actively talking to the competent authorities to see when and where we can start our new project. Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear: I hope to have better news in 2021.’

Has battery safety improved recently?

‘Every day, battery producers are pushing R&D departments to increase battery safety at the cell level. Serious progress has definitely been made. However, there are already many batteries on the market today which will become waste in the next couple of years. These are the batteries that can still cause problems once they reach end-of-life. When it comes to the safe storage of waste (and new) lithium-ion and lithium batteries, the industry has come a long way. We have conducted several tests in collaboration with fire fighters, aerosol extinguisher producers, e-bike producers and insurance companies since 2019. I’m glad to say our battery fire extinguishing solution is becoming the new standard.’

Looking back on 2020, what would you do differently if you could?

Van Peperzeel laughs. ‘Lose 10 kg of weight… and spend more time with my family.’

What are your expectations of the future?

‘The near future for my company looks good; every consumer uses batteries and with the growth of e-mobility I am sure that Van Peperzeel will see a big surge in waste batteries in the coming years. On top of that, recyclers will have to develop dedicated recycling solutions for electric cars and this presents a completely new market for us.’

With the holidays approaching, do you have a Christmas message to inspire or encourage your fellow recyclers?

‘Once the coronavirus vaccine becomes available in bigger volumes to help everybody, I hope we can go back to our “normal” life. However, I doubt business will be like it was before. That’s why it’s important to keep believing in yourself. After all, you know your own market the best; you are your own expert. Keep a close eye on the activities in your sector and try to always think one step ahead. Finally, remember that, despite how dark some periods can be, don’t just be critical; look for opportunities.’

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