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How To Dispose & Recycle Used Batteries

written by: thethinktank•edited by: Lindsay Evans•updated: 5/20/2011

As essential as it is to buy and use batteries, it is also important to dispose of them properly. Read this guide to learn how and why you need to recycle and properly dispose of used batteries.

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    It is important to know how to properly recycle and dispose of used batteries. Before we go ahead, remember never to throw away a battery in a trash can without giving it a second thought. What you may not realize is that it can be harmful to the environment and you. Batteries should be disposed or recycled in a proper manner. You might think it would be too time consuming and potentially cost you money to pay for disposing an old battery (especially in case of car batteries). However, all this is worth the effort because when not properly disposed of, these same batteries can pose a serious threat to you.

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    Are Batteries Hazardous?

    Batteries contain heavy metals (such as mercury, cadmium, nickel, and lead) which can contaminate the environment when improperly disposed. If incinerated, certain toxic metals are released in the air and can concentrate the combustion ash, and might even result in an explosion. Some of the hazards caused are:

    • Exposure of the environment to lead and strong corrosive acids
    • Cause burns and danger to eyes and skin
    • Contribute to heavy metals which can leach from solid waste landfills to soil, groundwater or surface water.
    • The vaporised form gets trapped in the atmosphere and pollutes lakes and streams in form of rain.
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    How to Dispose of Non-Rechargeable Batteries

    The first step to properly dispose of any battery is to read the labels, because there are different ways to properly dispose of various kinds of batteries. The most commonly used battery for household purposes are alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, C, D or 9-volt battery) which come with a 97% percent reduction in the amount of mercury compared to the ones made before the 1990’s (look for the label No Mercury Added’). These batteries are not considered hazardous and can be thrown away with usual household waste, but still it is better to recycle. Recycling saves resources because recovered plastics and metals can be used to make new batteries. Recycling also keeps heavy metals out of landfills and air.

    Note: California has more restrictive rules and doesn’t allow any type of battery to be disposed of with household waste.

    For other batteries, such as lithium, mercuric, oxide, nickel-cadmium, nickel metal hydride and silver oxide, it is best to contact your town’s local sanitation center or hazardous waste management center. Proper technology to recycle non-rechargeable batteries is not present and most of the time the only option which remains is to dispose them. Never put an old battery in your pocket or purse as it might rupture or leak. Instead, always place them in a container or some other bag. Given below are a few facts which you should be aware of when you must dispose of batteries that can not be recycled:

    • Lithium batteries (Industrial batteries): These do not contain any toxic metal, but on corrosion and subsequent exposure to moisture there is possibility of explosion.
    • Carbon-Zinc (commonly known as "classic",heavy duty or power cell): These are non-hazardous and can be disposed off with normal municipal waste. Their recycling is too expensive to be of any commercial use.
    • Mercury and silver oxide(Button batteries): batteries can be returned to the retailers who sell them to the companies which reclaim the metal.
    • Laptop Batteries (Lithium-Ion Battery): These do not contain any environmental risky material, but are recyclable.
    • Alkaline and carbon-zinc batteries are the ones which we normally use in calculators, toys, alarms (even smoke alarms), remote controls, transistors.
    • Button batteries are what we use in watches, hearing aids, greeting cards.
    • Lithium-ion battery are used in calculators, computer memory back-up, cameras.
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    To reduce waste, try to keep your battery use to a minimum. What you can do is use more hand operated appliances that use electricity instead of batteries. The best solution which does not restrict your use of batteries is to use rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries last longer than single use batteries before disposal and reduce the number of batteries you buy.

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    How to Dispose of Rechargeable Batteries

    Rechargeable batteries contain heavy metals, but they can be recycled efficiently. The metals present are reused and the acid inside is neutralised by the recyclers. Many automotive stores and retail chains have stations where recycling of rechargeable batteries is possible. You can find these places using internet (look up the site of your city/town), or telephone directory, or contact your local sanitation center. Look up this link to find a battery recycling station nearby. You can also find recycle kits which can be used at home and for small business purposes.

    Even car batteries are recyclable and precautions should be taken while disposing them. Lead acid (and sealed lead) car batteries are recoverable to 96%. You can exchange an old car battery with a new one at an auto repair store. Many companies have a fixed date when they choose to pick up the battery or a fixed location where you can drop it off. To find a list of all the states that have the lead-acid laws, you can go to Exide's website. You will find a chart that tells you where and when to exchange the battery. Follow these guidelines to dispose of rechargeable batteries:

    • Cordless phone battery (Nickel-Cadmium): Cadmium is toxic and hence these batteries must carefully be returned to the retailer/manufacturer or recycling centre.
    • Mobile phone battery (Nickel Metal Hydride): Though these batteries are considered environmental friendly, large amount of the electrolyte can be dangerous. These batteries are recyclable and it is better to dispose them off where they can be recycled. For more information on mobile phone accessory recycling, see here.