including flashlights, cell phones, toys, laptop computers, and even in our automobiles. Batteries serve as a convenient way to power devices without a direct power source such as a wall outlet.
A great deal of resources are used to manufacture batteries, and some of them are even toxic, such as lead and cadmium. When waste batteries are burned, the toxins in the batteries can cause air pollution and can leach out onto the land and into groundwater. In order to recover some of these resources from the waste stream, such as nickel, cobalt and silver, and to keep other resources from polluting the environment, we should recycle batteries¹.
Battery recycling, however, is not as straight-forward as recycling most other materials, such as paper, plastics, and glass, since different types of batteries are composed of different materials and chemicals.
Where you live determines what your battery recycling options are. Different countries and local governments have different requirements for battery recycling, and therefore may differ in how easy and convenient it is to recycle various types of batteries. In the EU, for instance, companies and stores that sell, produce, supply, or dispose of all types of batteries are required to collect them for recycling, and therefore have implemented battery collection systems¹. In some cases, schools, town halls, libraries, and other government facilities collect batteries, as well as some recycling centers and household hazardous waste facilities².
In other places, such as in the U.S., the methods and requirements for the collection of most batteries for recycling are much more dependent upon the types of batteries and what they are made of. While a number of organizations are working to create programs that would make the collection of all types of batteries convenient, currently only 20-40% of all cell phone and other types of consumer batteries are recycled in the U.S³. However, In the State of California, all batteries are considered to be hazardous waste and require disposal at a household hazardous waste collection facility⁴.
Since the “Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act” banned mercury in all alkaline batteries in the U.S. in 1996, single use alkaline batteries have been allowed to be disposed of in the trash because they became safer to dispose of in landfills⁵. This is the case in all states but the State of California, where all batteries are considered to be hazardous waste and are required to be disposed of in a household hazardous waste collection facility⁴.
No matter where you live, however, single-use alkaline batteries still contain components that can be recycled, such as steel and zinc⁵.
Alkaline batteries are accepted at many facilities, as well as by many mail-in or take-back programs like this one⁶.
As an alternative, rechargeable batteries have a much longer lifespan than disposable batteries have, and can be recharged many times, reducing the demand for the production of new batteries and the resources required to produce them. You can also use devices that utilize renewable energy, such as solar-powered lights and calculators⁷.
Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd) Batteries
Nickel-Cadmium Batteries are the most inexpensive rechargeable batteries. They can be recharged hundreds of times, and are generally interchangeable with disposable alkalines⁸.
Ni-Cd batteries contain the toxic heavy metal cadmium, and therefore should not be placed into landfills. For a cadmium-free rechargeable alternative, nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are now available on the market as well. Both used Ni-Cd and used Ni-MH batteries are accepted at many retail stores and public agencies⁸.
At the end of life, nickel, iron, zinc, and cadmium can be recovered from recycling these batteries⁷.
For those in the U.S., the locator on this website can help you to find locations nearest you to recycle these batteries. Other websites, such as this one for the UK, can help you locate battery recyclers outside of the U.S.
Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) Batteries
Lithium-Ion batteries are commonly used in devices such as cell phones and consumer electronics and also in electric vehicles⁹.
These batteries are recycled using processes that are similar to the recycling of Ni-Cd batteries and contain useful metals that can be recovered⁹.
Silver Oxide Batteries
Silver oxide batteries are the “button cell” batteries used in devices such as calculators, hearing aids, and wristwatches. These and other button-type batteries contain mercury, so they do not belong in the trash and should be recycled¹⁰.
When you are at a store purchasing new batteries, ask them if they can recycle the old battery. If not, you should be able to take them to a household hazardous waste collection facility¹⁰.
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead acid batteries are used in automotives such as cars, boats, golf carts, motorcycles and lawnmowers. These batteries contain large amounts of lead and sulfuric acid, so they should be recycled¹¹.
When you are purchasing a new car battery, be sure to ask about available options to recycle the old one. If they will not accept it, ask your local municipality about recycling options, or bring it to a household hazardous waste facility¹¹.
Other Battery Types
To properly recycle other types of batteries, it is helpful to determine which chemicals are in them. Once you know what is in the battery, you will be able to determine if it needs to be disposed of properly as household hazardous waste¹¹.
If you are uncertain about how to properly recycle your used batteries, check with your local municipal authority to learn where you can recycle batteries where you live.