A little background information:
Batteries are identified by the product they’re used for (“car battery,” “cell phone battery,” etc.) or its size ( “9V”, “button cell”). But for scientific purposes, batteries’ names are based on the metals they contain. Concerning disposal, the name can be helpful because it lets you know what elements are wrapped up in that cylindrical or rectangular packaging.
In the case of both batteries, recycling involves using heat to separate the high temperature metals, such as nickel and iron, from the low temperature ones, like zinc and cadmium. Some of the metals solidify after they melt, while others are reprocessed as metal oxides. Regardless of the post melt metal metamorphased result, each of these metals have monetary value and significant useful lives all their own.
Battery recycling comes down to the efforts you are willing to make. Easy availability of recycling service centers depends on where you live. California has designated all batteries as hazardous waste and requires that they be recycled or taken to a household hazardous waste collection facility.
1. Rechargeable batteries last considerably longer than single-use batteries, so using them means less batteries for disposal.
2. All batteries have a finite life span, but there are steps you can take to prolong the life of your batteries.
How to Recycle Alkaline Manganese Batteries
Alkaline batteries are used in everything from cameras and flashlights to remote controls.
Your local solid waste department might instruct you to put alkaline batteries in with your regular trash. This is likely a result of the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act that passed in 1996 that phased out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries, making them less of an issue when disposed in landfills. This does not mean alkaline batteries are not recyclable, however.
If you’re unable to find a local recycling option, you can consider mail-in recycling programs. They are also accepted for recycling at all Batteries Plus locations.
If you do decide to put alkaline batteries in the trash, since in most cases this is legal, you can still take extra steps to prevent leaking- here’s how:
1. Put multiple batteries in the same plastic bag.
2. Secure the ends of each battery with masking tape.
Recycling these batteries can recover steel and zinc, two valuable metals. In the case of steel, it can be reprocessed into rebar…remember that rebar can come in handy to have on hand!
How to Recycle Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd) Batteries
Ni-Cd batteries are the inexpensive rechargeable form of alkaline batteries. They can be recharged hundreds of times to avoid disposing of batteries and are frequently interchangeable with alkaline batteries.
A cadmium-free alternative to these batteries is Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), which you’ll now find more often with name brands of rechargeable batteries.
- FACT: Ni-Cd batteries retail cost includes the built-in price to cover proper disposal.
- FACT: Due to the presence of the toxic metal cadmium, these batteries are considered hazardous waste and are not allowed in landfills.
- FACT: In 1994 the rechargeable battery industry formed the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), which provides collection locations for both Ni-Cd and Ni-MH batteries in thousands of retail stores and public agencies.
Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) Batteries
One of the newest forms of rechargeable technology is the Li-ion battery, which is commonly found in cellular phones and consumer electronics.
- Lithium- ion batteries are also being introduced as the power source for electric vehicles.
Li-ion battery are generally disposed of along with an electronic device like a cell phone or a laptop. Generally, the company or person that accepts your used electronic device will accept the battery as well. The RBRC program, summarized above, also covers lithium-ion batteries so finding recycling locations should not be too demanding.
These batteries are recycled in the same way as Ni-Cd batteries and also produce valuable metals.
Li-ion batteries are not recommended to be stored or put into landfills because they have the potential to overheat and explode when exposed to hot temperatures. If you intend to amass a collection of lithium-ion batteries before recycling them, it’s a good idea to store lithium-ion batteries in a cool location.
Silver Oxide Batteries
This is the more common form of the button cell battery, which you’ll usually find in calculators, hearing aids and wristwatches.
In addition to their small size, button cells are known for a long storage life and the ability to work well in low temperatures.
Silver oxide and other button cell batteries also contain mercury, which makes recycling a must. They aren’t rechargeable so RBRC’s program does not cover silver oxide/button batteries.
Button batteries are often replaced by a professional so ask if they will recycle the batteries. Often silver oxide batteries can be disposed of as part of household hazardous waste programs sponsored by your state or county.
- Button cells have an alphanumeric code, and the first letter indicates what type you have (“L” for manganese dioxide, “S” for silver oxide).
- Silver oxide batteries are typically shredded during the recycling process to recover the valuable heavy metals.
These are the batteries that primarily power automotive units, such as cars, boats, golf carts, motorcycles and even lawn mowers.
Lead-acid batteries have a 97 percent recycling rate, the highest of any consumer product in the U.S., which is good because they’re one of the most harmful products in a landfill with a mixture of lead and sulfuric acid.
When you buy a new car battery ask about the intended recycling options for the old one when it’s installed. You can also participate in the AAA-sponsored Great Battery Roundup, which takes place every year in April.
Lead-acid batteries are recycled by separating the battery into its three main components: Plastic, lead and sulfuric acid. After the recycling process each component starts a new life!
- The polypropylene plastic is reprocessed into new battery cases.
- Lead pieces are cleaned and also reprocessed for use in new batteries.
- The battery acid is either converted into sodium sulfate that is then used in laundry detergent or neutralized through a waste water treatment plant to be cleaned for human consumption.