How and why to recycle rechargeable batteries

How and why to recycle rechargeable batteries

There are four primary types of rechargeable batteries found in small consumer electronics

  • Nickel cadmium (NiCd) batteries are used in flashlights and photography equipment
  • Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are utilized in digital cameras, handheld electrical tools, and penlights
  • Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries power mobile phones, laptops, portable power tools, and tablets
  • Lithium on polymer (Li-poly/LiPo) batteries can be found in power banks, remote controlled vehicles and toys, notebook computers, and smartphones.

Legal requirements on rechargeable battery recycling

Once the batteries no longer operate, it is best to recycle them. In 1996, the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act forbade the use of mercury in batteries. This made battery recycling more cost-effective and safe. Consequently, battery recycling is highly encouraged by national and local governments. For example, the US Department of Energy is heavily involved in promoting companies and programs to open new recycling programs, especially regarding Lithium ion batteries.

In the state of California, all discarded batteries are considered hazardous waste and are legally required to be recycled. New York City’s 2006 Rechargeable Battery Law makes it illegal for residents to discard rechargeable batteries in the trash, they must instead recycle. Many other states have similar regulations.

Common recyclable components

In addition to legal reasons, it is imperative that batteries are recycled to preserve the environment and potentially reduce costs. Recycling allows battery materials to be re-purposed:

  • Plastic from battery covers is crushed and melted into new cases.
  • Lead ingots are melted down to create new battery grids.
  • Electrolytes are either chemically treated and reused or transformed into usable goods like glass, textiles, or detergent.
  • Nickel, cadmium, and cobalt metals commonly used in rechargeable batteries are in scarce supply on our planet – reusing them is economically beneficial.

By repurposing battery materials, resource use is optimized. This is not only environmentally friendly, but also cost-efficient. Many companies have started to benefit from battery recycling’s potential. For example, Energizer aims to reach 40% recycled material in their EcoAdvanced battery by 2025.

Specific hazards by battery type

  • Nickel cadmium batteries contain nickel oxyhydroxide and toxic metallic cadmium; their leakage into environment is extremely dangerous.
  • Nickel metal hydride batteries also contain nickel oxyhydroxide, but use a hydrogen-absorbing alloy instead of cadmium. This makes the battery only mildly hazardous and totally recyclable.
  • Lithium ion and lithium ion polymer batteries include hazardous cobalt, manganese, and lithium as well as non-hazardous polyolefin separators and graphite or other carbons.

Preparing and storing dead rechargeable batteries for recycling

  • A piece of masking tape should be placed on the battery’s positive terminal to prevent contact with other batteries or metals; this practice helps avoid short circuiting. However, wrapping batteries completely in tape or taping different types of cells together should be avoided.
  • It may be convenient to place batteries in their original packaging, if it is still available.
  • Batteries must be stowed out of reach of small children, who may swallow them or be injured by corrosive elements that may have leaked.
  • As an additional safety precaution, a non-conductive storage container such as a plastic tub or cardboard box is preferable.
  • Ensure that batteries are not stored near sources of moisture or extreme heat, or together with wet, conductive, or flammable materials.
  • For button cell batteries, it is convenient and effective to stick the positive terminals of multiple dead button cell batteries onto a single long piece of tape, and then to use another piece of tape to cover and secure the negative terminal ends.
  • Lithium battery cells should be individually bagged prior to storage.

Where to recycle your old batteries

  • Many local garbage collection companies have initiated mail-in recycling programs which include batteries. For example, Waste Management (serving regions of the American East Coast, Midwest, and some Southern and Western states) offers a Dry Cell Recycling Kit. The recycling kit may be ordered via their website. It is then filled according to the provided instructions and shipped back to Waste Management company, where the batteries are recycled.
  • Retriev Technologies sells The Big Green Box on their website, which ships to any home or office. Batteries, cell phones, and electronics are individually bagged and placed inside the box to prevent unintentional discharges. Once the box is full, it is shipped by FedEx (shipping cost included in price of box) to an EPA-approved recycling facility.
  • The EasyPak Sustainable Program is another mail-in recycling program which recycles various electronics, including both throwaway and rechargeable batteries. Their website sells three sizes of recycling containers. Once they are filled, the containers are shipped back to Air Cycle Corporation. There, they are properly recycled.
  • Many towns have their own local battery recycling programs which can be found online or by calling your local city/town administration office.
  • Call 2 Recycle is a program that recycles most rechargeable batteries. At their website, you can use your US zip code to find nearby battery recycling/collection locations. Batteries can simply be dropped off at a recycling or collection center.
  • Often, retailers offer recycling options for rechargeable batteries. In the United States, the following businesses accept dead batteries: Batteries Plus, Best Buy, Black & Decker, The Home Depot, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, Orchard Supply, Porter Cable Service Center, RadioShack, Remington Product Company, Sears, Staples, Target, US Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and Wal-Mart. Each individual business may be contacted through their website, phone, or store to for information on recycling regulations.

Prior to mailing or bringing your batteries to a recycling or collection center, make sure that the particular type of batteries that you have is accepted by the place that you want to get them to. Many recycling centers limit the types of batteries that they accept. For example, Waste Management does not recycle damaged, leaking, or lithium ion batteries. Retriev Technologies’ recycling program requires a separate Big Green Box be purchased in order to recycle lithium ion batteries. Call 2 Recycle only accepts batteries that weigh eleven pounds or less.

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