Exit signs and emergency lights typically contain either nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) or lead acid batteries. When replacing dead batteries in these lights, be sure to exhibit caution, since both types of batteries contain several harmful components.
In Ni-Cd batteries, both cadmium and nickel are harmful and can cause illness. Ni-Cd batteries have a strong base electrolyte, which is dangerous as well.
The lead in lead acid batteries is highly hazardous and can cause severe illnesses. Also, if it leaks, it can contaminate the environment. Sulfuric acid used in lead acid batteries is an extremely strong acid and is very toxic. It is also highly flammable and may catch things on fire if it leaks.
Legal requirements for disposal
Federal law states that Ni-Cd and lead acid batteries are Universal Waste, a category which classifies them as being hazardous while also consisting of commonly found materials (https://www.epa.gov/hw/universal-waste). Universal Waste should be recycled, which is fairly easy with the right information.
Recycling collection centers
There are several options for recycling emergency light or exit sign batteries. Firstly, many towns provide battery recycling services. Check your town or city website to check out their recycling program. These programs may provide collection services of certain types of batteries. However, they may not cover all types of batteries, so it could be necessary to use an outside organization.
The main organization for battery recycling is Call2Recycle, a program created to collect used batteries safely in order to reuse the materials within. Most major battery production companies are affiliated with the group. Call2Recycle collects several different types of batteries, including Ni-Cd and small Sealed Lead Acid batteries that are less than 11 pounds. To recycle batteries, simply drop them off at a battery collection site. Site locations are found by typing a town name or zip code into the location finder on the website. Make sure that the collection center takes your particular battery type prior to going to drop it off.
Earth911 also has a location finder where you can search for recycling specific types of batteries using their Recycle Search feature. Locations are usually hardware or electronics stores, and are found in both rural and urban parts of the U.S. They will take all batteries, regardless of where you bought them initially, as long as the type of battery you have is accepted at the particular location. Also, there is no monetary charge to recycle batteries at these centers.
Mail-in battery recycling
One alternative to going to a center is sending dead batteries through the mail to a recycling group. Ni-Cd batteries can be recycled through services like Waste Management’s Recycle by Mail program. For $20, you can purchase a mailing kit that holds up to four pounds of batteries. Just tape the poles of each Ni-Cd battery, place them in the kit, and put it in your mailbox.
You can also sign up to receive a certificate guaranteeing that the batteries have been recycled. This program includes several different types of batteries but does not include lead acid batteries. It is a good alternative for people who live in rural areas far away from other big recycling centers but still want to recycle their batteries.
Storing dead batteries for delivery or pickup
When storing dead batteries before delivery or pickup, there are guidelines to follow:
- The positive terminals of the battery must be taped over. The positive terminal is the red colored terminal for lead acid batteries or the red wire for Ni-Cd batteries.
- The batteries should then be stored in either a plastic or cardboard container. This is because plastic and cardboard are insulators, so they do not conduct electricity. Do not store them with or in metal, as this increases the risk that they catch on fire. One option is to keep them in the packaging of the replacement battery.
- Multiple lead acid batteries should be kept separated from one another.
- Lead acid and Ni-Cd batteries must be either discharged or insulated before disposal so they do not short out.
- The batteries should be stored in a cool, dry place and kept outside of reach of children. If they get too hot, they may break open and release the chemicals inside.
- Be sure to follow all federal, state, and local battery disposal regulations.
Benefits of recycling Ni-Cd and lead acid batteries
Recycling exit sign and emergency light batteries has great benefit both economically and environmentally. Currently about 99% of all lead acid batteries are recycled. The lead is melted down and reused in making more batteries. This keeps it safely out of the environment, where it could contaminate food and water supplies. Ni-Cd batteries are also important to recycle since they contain dangerous chemicals and are often easy to recycle.
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