How to Use Old Batteries

Aug 16, 2021 | E-Cycling

How to recycle old batteriesMost of us have a junk drawer filled with brittle rubber bands, dried-up pens, and lifeless batteries clanking around every time you try to dig out a twist tie. It’s really no way to live, though. If you’re sick of all that junk taking up valuable real estate in your home, you’re in luck. Here, we’ve got tips on how to use old batteries instead of leaving them to gather dust in your junk drawer.

We assume that by “how to use old batteries,” you mostly mean “how to get rid of old batteries.” That’s where we’ll spend most of our time. We’ll explain the process batteries go through to be recycled, and we’ll talk about how those materials are reused. That’s the best way how to use old batteries: Turn them into something else. 

Here, we’re mainly focused on bigger kinds of batteries that you might only have in a metaphorical junk drawer, like those in unwanted electronics. We’ll take you through how to use old batteries in a variety of ways and circumstances. Read on for the complete guide.

How NOT to Use Old Batteries

The first thing we need to address is the wrong way to dispose of old batteries. Keep in mind that many states have laws that ban batteries from landfills. That’s because they contain harmful chemicals that we need to keep out of the air and water. This is one reason why it’s so important to learn how to use old batteries properly. You should definitely check the rules and regulations for where you live.

In Missouri, the law dictates that lead-acid batteries cannot be thrown away. They must be recycled, and if you’re convicted of knowingly putting a lead-acid battery in the trash, you’ll be guilty of a class C misdemeanor. In Illinois, the rules are similar. Anywhere that sells lead-acid batteries must accept used up ones for recycling, and knowingly putting a lead-acid battery in the trash or landfill is punishable by a $100 fine. In both states, stores that sell these types of batteries have to put up signs that have specific language about not throwing away scrap old car batteries and other batteries of this type.

Federal laws also come into play when you’re deciding how to use old batteries. Nickel cadmium and lead batteries are subject to the Universal Waste rule, which dictates that handlers must recycle these batteries.

This is all to say that although recycling batteries might not be required and it might not be the most convenient option, but it’s still the best one. For example, if you’re looking to scrap old car batteries, you shouldn’t just drop them off at the dump. Don’t throw your used-up AA batteries into the general kitchen trash if you can help it, and don’t pitch your cell phone along with them. Instead, let’s learn how to use old batteries the responsible way. 

How Old Batteries Are Recycled

Alright, so you’re committed to recycling your old batteries instead of throwing them away. What does that process look like? 

Similar to how electronics are recycled, batteries also have to go through a rigorous process before their materials can be reused. Battery recyclers need to break them down into their components and separate out each different material. This can be accomplished in a few ways, some better for the environment than others.

First, the facility separates the batteries depending on their chemistry. That means alkaline batteries go with alkaline batteries and scrap old car batteries go with scrap old car batteries. Then, those batteries need to get broken down into their raw materials. Some are crushed, others are shredded, and still others are heated up to the point that their precious metals evaporate and then condense. Chemical separation is another way different materials can be isolated. Basically, it all depends on the type of battery and the processes at that specific battery recycling plant. 

The materials recyclers are trying to isolate from batteries include lead, zinc, manganese, and nickel. Those metals are then shipped to facilities that use them in new batteries or other products. Now that you know how to use old batteries in a recycling sense, you can see that it’s a complex and specialized process. Professionals design the centers that recycle batteries specifically for that purpose, and the more general recycling centers (like the ones that take plastic bottles and aluminum cans) just aren’t cut out for those sorts of procedures. Keep that in mind as you continue on your battery recycling journey.

Old Household Batteries

These are the kind you’ll probably run into the most often. They’re not like scrap old car batteries that you’ll only have to deal with rarely — you’ll go through plenty of these in your day-to-day life. Single-use batteries like your standard AA or AAA fit into this category. 

Although those sorts of alkaline batteries are not generally hazardous in your household trash, it’s still more environmentally friendly to recycle them if you can. Plenty of programs accept these batteries for recycling — just search for a location near you, gather all your alkaline batteries, and drop them off. You shouldn’t put them in the single-stream recycling bins where you might through other household recyclables, though. As we discussed, batteries must go through a specialized recycling process, and regular recycling centers aren’t built to handle them. It’s a little inconvenient to separate out the batteries, but our Earth thanks you. 

Not all household batteries can go in the trash, though. You need to be on the lookout for batteries that use lithium. Single-use household batteries that use that metal include larger batteries and the smaller, button-cell variety. How to use old batteries that contain lithium is a bit trickier. They should not be placed in the trash or regular recycling bins because lithium batteries can cause fires if they’re damaged. Therefore, you need to handle them with caution. Place each one in a separate plastic bag, or wrap the ends in electrical tape, and contact the manufacturer to ask about more specific instructions if the batteries are already damaged. That way, you can avoid any mishaps.

Old Laptop Batteries

You might have heard about certain laptop batteries catching fire on planes. Those are scary stories, and they speak to how dangerous these kinds of batteries can be under the wrong circumstances. So, it’s extra important to know how to use old batteries safely.

At this point it shouldn’t be surprising that we recommend recycling old laptop batteries. However, because these types of batteries are more dangerous than many others you’ll find around your house, you need to be extra sure you know how to use old batteries correctly. 

Laptop batteries are usually Lithium Ion batteries, which are a kind you shouldn’t mess around with. They’re definitely not allowed in your regular household trash. Your best bet is to find a place that collects them — many retail locations that sell computers or office supplies do.

Maybe just getting rid of the battery out of your laptop isn’t enough for you. Unless you’re planning on installing a new battery or using the parts for something else, you probably need to get rid of the rest of the laptop, too. You might want to recycle your whole laptop in these cases. If you’re not going to get any more use out of it, that’s certainly a great option. However, you may need to separate out the battery before you drop the whole machine off. Check the requirements of your preferred recycler.

Old Cell Phone Batteries

Like laptop batteries, you might prefer to get rid of the whole cell phone rather than just discarding the battery. These devices aren’t like scrap old car batteries where it’s common to replace them every few years or so. Once the battery starts to go on an electronic device, most people want an entirely new gadget. So, if you’re wondering how to use old batteries that once powered cell phones, you’re probably also wondering where to discard the whole phone.

Old Car Batteries

You can scrap old car batteries if you don’t know what else to do with them. Selling scrap old car batteries can be a good way to earn a little extra money if you’ve got a few lying around. Or, you can collect some. If you want to scrap old car batteries with the goal of generating supplemental income, just one battery isn’t going to cut it. It might only bring you about $6. They’re usually priced on weight. So, try to gather up a number of scrap old car batteries before you start selling them so you can get a better price.

Part of knowing how to use old batteries includes knowing how to make old batteries work for you. You can’t really sell the other kinds of old batteries we’ve discussed, and you might have to pay a small fee to get others taken away. With scrap old car batteries, though, you’ve got more opportunities to get a financial incentive to recycle. Find a place that will take the scrap old car batteries you’ve collected off your hands and rake in the dollars.

Unconventional Ways to Use Old Batteries

In this section, we want to briefly touch on the new and imaginative ways people are recycling old batteries. For example, there are services out there that take trace elements from batteries and turn them into fertilizer. You probably never even thought to learn how to use old batteries as plant food, but it’s a definite possibility. One of the companies that sells fertilizer made in this way is called Tracegrow, and they take concentrated zinc and manganese from alkaline batteries to make their product. 

If you’re handy, there are also ways you can craft your seemingly dead batteries into other useful items. We do want to preface this point with a warning: Messing with old batteries can be dangerous, so make sure you have the proper tools, safety equipment, and know-how before beginning a project like this. Know that little projects with old batteries are more suited to household alkaline batteries, not necessarily scrap old car batteries. Keep that in mind when you’re gathering materials. Once you’ve collected all the things you need, you can make a little LED flashlight that’s powered by a battery that you thought was long spent. 

The specifics of how to use old batteries in this way are a little too detailed for our purposes here, but we’ll link you to the full instructions here, if you’re interested. The basic idea is that you can create a circuit in which the LED seems to be constantly lit, but it’s actually only being powered in little spurts that seem continuous to the human eye. It’s definitely a fun way to use up the last drops of juice in your household batteries, if you’re into that kind of project.

Now you know how to use old batteries.

From scrap old car batteries to regular old AAAs, used-up batteries need to be properly handled. We’ve given you a broad look at what that often looks like, but you also need to check the guidelines, laws, and opportunities in your specific area. There are certain kinds of batteries that states allow in landfills, and there are other kinds that they don’t. Even if you can legally put batteries in the trash where you live, it’s not the best option. Keeping the harmful chemicals in batteries out of our air and water supply is important. The best way to do that is to recycle all the batteries you can. 

As we discussed, battery recycling looks a little different depending on what kind of batteries are being broken down. If you want to scrap old car batteries, for example, you can find paid opportunities for that. Others won’t afford those same options. And once you hand over your used-up batteries, the recycling center will break them down in various different ways.

All in all, it’s really not all that difficult to know how to use old batteries. You can get creative and try to reuse them in a project, or you can just drop them off for recycling. Your call.