There are plenty of ways to dispose of batteries. Most council services provide bags that are specifically for disposing of batteries. Where this isn’t available, they can be taken to recycling centres, shops where they sell batteries, supermarket collection points or DIY centres.
Any type of battery can be disposed of by collection or taken to collection points from where they will be sent to be recycled.
This includes all those cylindrical batteries that fit in the many remote hand-held devices that manage our televisions and whatever else. Add to that the tiny flat batteries that you find in items such as the weighing device that you may have in the kitchen or watches.
Looking at how to dispose of batteries
Larger batteries used in laptops, power tools and mobile phones can be sent off to be disposed of at collection centres.
Car batteries can be recycled but they need to be disposed of through collection centres that specifically handle these types of larger units.
You need to be particularly careful when you dispose of batteries that contain acid.
Traditional car batteries are the lead-acid type and it’s possible to spill the acid if you don’t keep them upright. The more modern car batteries tend to be completely sealed but, to be safe, keep these upright when transporting to a collection point, to have them disposed of.
How can I reduce the need to dispose of batteries?
You can reduce the need to dispose of batteries
Wherever possible use rechargeable batteries. The ‘use-once & throw-away’ batteries are more convenient but small batteries can be recharged from a main electricity supply. There are many battery charging devices out there that, once set up, will provide most of your recharging needs.
There are some batteries that have no recharge option. For example the small, round, flat batteries that are used in some smaller appliances.
If you’re a ‘renewables’ enthusiast, there’s the wind-up radio with a torch facility. Bicycles have efficient dynamos for lighting and solar powered calculators have been around for quite a while now.
When you need to dispose of batteries, remember that they can all be recycled
What you need to know to dispose of batteries in the US
If you need to dispose of batteries in the USA, the requirements are a little different. While in the UK there are plenty of facilities available for the collection of all types of batteries which can then be recycled, in the US a fee may be charged for the recycling of single-use batteries.
Can you dispose of batteries by throwing them in the bin?
Single-use batteries can be thrown out with other trash as they are seen as being made from metals that aren’t considered to be hazardous by the authorities in the federal government. The only exception, for now, is the state of California where it is currently illegal to dispose of batteries of any form by placing them with regular trash.
Before 1996, single-use batteries included mercury which is known to be a toxic metal. Every effort needs to be taken to keep mercury away from the general environment.
There is one type of single-use battery that still contains hazardous metals. These are the button cell batteries which are found in watches and some other appliances. Although they are single-use batteries, we need to treat them as though they are rechargeable and send them to be recycled because of what they contain.
Rechargeable batteries and how to dispose of them
In some states in the US it’s illegal to throw out rechargeable batteries with the main trash. These types of batteries are known to contain a range of heavy metals that need to be kept out of the wider environment. Rechargeable batteries can be recycled and the service of doing so is usually at no cost to the consumer who’s handing them in.
In the US you can dispose of rechargeable batteries at most supply stores where they have collection boxes for anyone who wants to dispose of batteries. The collection boxes are usually provided in the stores by established organisations, Call2Recycle being one. Call2Recycle will accept rechargeable batteries but they need to charge a small fee for taking single-use batteries because of the different recycling process needed.
These are some of the rechargeable batteries that can be recycled:
- Sealed lead-acid batteries
Small lead-acid batteries tend to be small and handleable rather than anything industrial and heavy. They’re less likely to be found in the average home. They often appear in mobility scooters and other specialist tools. When recycled, lead-acid batteries have quantities of lead, polypropylene and elements from the acid that can be used again.
- Standard lead-acid batteries
These are usually found in larger vehicles including cars and lorries. Lead-acid batteries will have the same components as the sealed lead-acid batteries with the lead, polypropylene and other elements being recoverable.
- Lithium-ion batteries
These contain Cobalt and steel. Lithium ion batteries are small and handleable. They will be found in laptop computers and cellphones. Lithium-ion batteries are designed to be recharged many times over. When recycled, the components from lithium-ion batteries can be used in the steel industry, more batteries, a range of electronic components and for manufacturing paint.
Lithium-ion batteries are not to be confused with the straight lithium batteries which you must never attempt to recharge. See more about lithium batteries.
- Nickel cadmium
These contain nickel, cadmium and steel. If you use cordless power tools, cordless phones, digital cameras or two-way radios, you will have nickel cadmium batteries to dispose of. When recycled the elements that are extracted will be used in the steel industry, metal plating and more batteries.
- Nickel metal hydride batteries
Found in batteries that are used mainly in mobile phones, they contain Nickel and steel which, when recycled, can be used in the steel industry,
- Zinc-based batteries
How to dispose of lithium batteries – single use
Not to be confused with lithium-ion batteries which are rechargeable and should be sent for recycling, single use lithium batteries can be thrown out with trash in some districts where it’s allowed. But it makes sense to dispose of lithium batteries by recycling them, as there are elements and components in metal-based lithium batteries that can be used again.
The big problem with lithium single-use batteries is that they tend to be the small, button-type batteries, the design of which brings a couple of problems. Being small; the size of coins, they can be swallowed. Button batteries need to be kept out of the reach of children and animals.
The other point about button-sized lithium batteries is that they can pose a fire hazard. A single lithium battery is no problem but if you have a collection of used batteries that are waiting to be disposed of, there is a risk that the terminal sides of the batteries will touch and form a circuit. This will compound whatever energy that may be lurking within the collection of batteries as a whole. Fires have been known to start from this situation.
The way to avoid the problem is to individually wrap button lithium batteries with sticky tape. This will insulate them from each other and prevent circuits from forming.
Lithium batteries that contain lithium metal are non-rechargeable whereas rechargeable lithium-ion batteries contain the salts of lithium. Recycling batteries that contain lithium metal and other metals, including ferrous and non-ferrous, involves the use of an alkaline solution. This will see the lithium transform by reaction into lithium carbonate. The process of recycling lithium batteries that contain metal, allows the main components to be used again in new lithium batteries.
What are the processes used to recycle batteries?
There are modern ways to recycle batteries that involve specialist machinery. Batteries are a convenient collection of elements and components that are tightly packed together to form the battery power-packs that we need.
Many, if not all, of the components that are brought together to make batteries are valuable materials that can be difficult to extract from mining sources. With so many elements involved that can be used and reused it makes sense to recycle batteries.
Here, we can look at some of the procedures that are used by enterprises that extract valuable materials when they recycle batteries.
Nickel-Cadmium and Nickel Cadmium Hydride batteries
To recycle batteries made from these materials, all plastic components must be removed from the metal components. The metal portion has to be recycled through a high-temperature procedure. The low-melt elements of zinc and cadmium separate at this point while the nickel, iron, manganese and chromium components will amalgamate. They then solidify into a casting to be put through further processing. Every element that’s reclaimed from these types of batteries can be reused, making them 100% recyclable.
To recycle batteries that include mercury requires a controlled temperature to separate the main component. Mercury is, understandably, observed as a hostile element. Its inclusion in mercuric oxide batteries has to be kept to a minimum. For this reason the volume of mercury-based batteries is being reduced following the Battery Act of 1996 in the USA.
To recycle batteries that are lithium-ion based requires an enclosed environment that’s held at a specific temperature and oxygen-free. The process that’s carried out is mechanical. The whole operation results in the extraction of three products. There will be:
1. A concentration of cobalt and lithium salt.
2. copper, aluminium and plastic
All of the components that are separated from these batteries can be presented for reuse in new products, making lithium-ion batteries fully recyclable.
Batteries untouched by human hands
Modern batteries tend to carry heavy metals, some of which are known to be harmful in their pure or compound forms, although the worst, mercury, is being limited where possible. To recycle batteries in the modern industrial world, it’s possible to feed them into specialist machines that, almost magically, separate out all the components in a way that makes life safe for everyone involved.
Why we need to think before we dispose of batteries
You only need to pick up a battery of any type and hold it in your hand to realise that these are condensed units that have been through an intensive production process. Then there’s the range of heavy metals that are involved in the making of what is essentially a precision item that brings us the convenience of being able to push a button on a controller to get something to happen for us.
None of these metals appear out of thin air. Some of them, when released, are bad for our environment and they often need to be mined from planet earth with some difficulties.
When we look at how to dispose of batteries after we’ve pushed a button on a TV controller and found that it no longer wants to respond, we need to think carefully about what we do with these spent batteries.
Looking around and gathering what information there is on the subject, it has become rather confusing about what you can and can’t do when it comes to how to dispose of batteries. Some States in the US allow for single-use batteries to be thrown out with the trash, some don’t. I see confusion over lithium batteries, Lithium-ion batteries and then there’s lithium polymer batteries which fit in as a ‘category of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
The only conclusion that I have arrived at is that considering the resources of both energy and elementary components that are brought together to make a battery of any type, we should all avoid releasing spent batteries to find their way to landfill sites.
There appears to be no battery that can’t be recycled. There are facilities enough to gather all batteries of any type. It’s up to us to make use of these facilities.
Before disposing of batteries, consider how you may be able to get more life out of them. You may be able to recycle them and get more out of them, as batteries, yourself.
Find out what else you can recycle: