Cadmium and the Future
Cadmium will invariably be present in our society, either in useful products or in controlled wastes. Today, its health effects are well understood and well regulated so that there is no need to restrict or ban cadmium products which, in any event, contribute so little to human cadmium exposure as to be virtually insignificant.
Nickel-cadmium batteries are essential and irreplaceable in many industrial and consumer applications, particularly those requiring high power, long cycle lives, and good high or low temperature performance. Rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries can replace thousands of primary non-rechargeable batteries, and thus significantly reduce the total amount of waste. The materials in recyclable Ni-Cd batteries can be more than 99% recovered for reuse in the production of new Ni-Cd batteries. World-wide initiatives have been undertaken in Japan, North America, Europe, Australia and the OECD to promote the collection of Ni-Cd batteries for recycling, thereby improving overall recycling rates. Ni-Cd batteries are also making important contributions to the development of the electric car market in Europe, thereby contributing to the improvement of urban air quality.
Cadmium pigments and stabilisers are important additives in certain specialised plastics, glasses, ceramics and enamels to achieve bright colours along with long service lives, even in very demanding applications. From an ecological point of view, it is important to develop and maintain functional products with long service lives, once again to minimise the input into the world's waste stream. Inferior substitutes which produce shortened service lives will ultimately only increase the volume of the world's waste. It should also be emphasised that cadmium in these applications is in a chemically very stable, highly insoluble form, and embedded in the product's matrix.
Cadmium coated components, likewise, provide outstanding corrosion resistance along with low friction coefficient, low electrical resistivity, good galvanic comparability, good plating coverage, ability to coat a wide variety of surfaces, and good brazeability and solderability. For these reasons, cadmium coated products are preferred for a wide range of critical and safety related applications in the aerospace, electrical, defence, mining, nuclear and offshore industries. In addition, cadmium coating wastes and products are easily recycled.
The recovery of cadmium from cadmium products through recycling programs not only ensures that cadmium will be kept out of the waste stream and out of the environment, but it also conserves valuable natural resources as well. Attempts to ban or restrict cadmium products are considered unnecessary, taking into account the ever decreasing human cadmium intake level which is already well below the WHO-standard, and the very small relative contribution of cadmium products in this respect. Such measures will only have the effects of undermining extensive efforts to collect and recycle cadmium products around the world. It will also have the marked effect of reducing the European Union's competitiveness in international markets with its attendant delocalisation of plants and losses of jobs. These conclusions have already been reached in North America and Japan which have no intention of restricting cadmium use in the manner proposed by the European Union. A similar conclusion was also reached in the OECD Risk Reduction Programme on Cadmium.
Rather than restricting cadmium products, it is argued that the European Union should co-operate with and encourage the industry's voluntary product stewardship initiatives to collect and recycle cadmium containing products which would contribute to the sustainable and safe use of cadmium in modem society.