How To Recycle Batteries Responsibly and Safely

Jan 18, 2021 | E-Cycling

Did you know that you shouldn’t just throw batteries in the garbage? When a battery doesn’t work anymore there is a sustainable way to dispose of it to protect the environment. You can recycle batteries.

There are many electronic devices in homes, offices, schools, hospitals, and just about everywhere. Knowing what to do with dead batteries is an essential part of proper maintenance. Depending on the type of battery and what it is used for, there’s an ideal method for disposing of it.

For example, the batteries that power your TV remote control are disposed of differently than the rechargeable ones that charge your digital camera or laptop. Not only is it hazardous to throw them away in the garbage, but it may also be illegal in some places.

Read on to learn more about different types of batteries and the best ways to dispose of them.

Why Batteries Need Careful Disposal

Some batteries are made from different types of chemicals including lead, mercury, cadmium, lithium, zinc, nickel, and silver. The reason why it matters in which manner they are disposed of is that the battery casings can corrode in landfills.

The reactive acids and toxic materials they’re made of can penetrate the soil and reach our water supply. This event can have a devastating impact on our ecosystem, polluting the soil, wildlife, and humans. Cadmium, for instance, damages soil microorganisms that are essential for breaking down organic matter properly.

There are major dangers that can be caused if proper battery disposal is ignored.

For example, if lithium-ion batteries are crushed, they can spark and create deadly fires. They are found mostly in cars and portable electronics. These types of batteries should not be disposed of with paper, cans, or bottles.

The Huffington Post interviewed Jackie Carr, the operations coordinator at The Nature Conservancy of New York. She told them that people have lots of questions about batteries.” It is great to see more interest in this topic because we’re continuing to make improvements with the conservancy of our environment.

Single-Use Batteries

Some of the most popular types of batteries are single-use batteries of various shapes and sizes. They are also called alkaline or primary cell batteries and are non-rechargeable, lasting for a short life span. You’ll find them in items like TV remote controls, flashlights, smoke detectors, wall clocks, and children’s toys. Typical sizes include sizes such as AAA, AA, D-Cell, and 9V.

Some common types of single-use batteries include:

  • Mercury cells
  • Silver-Oxide cells
  • Alkaline cells
  • Zinc-carbon cells
  • Lithium cells

How to Dispose of Single-Use Batteries

New manufacturing processes are now able to make single-use batteries with common metals that are considered not to be hazardous by the federal government. They are able to be tossed in the regular garbage in most states, California is an exception where it is not legal to throw away ANY type of battery. You must recycle batteries in that state.

As of 1996, single-use batteries were made with mercury and were considered to be hazardous waste. Thanks to the Battery Act in 1996 manufacturers are prohibited from using mercury, a toxic element, in all types of batteries they produce, except for mercuric oxide batteries or button cell batteries. The button cell battery in watches doesn’t belong to the same class and are recycled the same as rechargeable batteries.

There are many ways to recycle single-use batteries, it is usually done for a battery disposal fee. Here are some methods for recycling them:

  • Contact your district’s solid waste program to find out about their collection practices and recycling events to recycle batteries. Many communities and cities have “drop-off sites” run by the government. Some cities have special bags you can put next to your dumpster.
  • Use online directories that feature battery recycling locations in your area that accept single-use batteries.
  • Search for mail-in solutions that allow you to send your dead batteries. Some places sell containers you can use to store your dead batteries in and mail them in when they are filled.

Alternatives to Single-Use Batteries

To avoid creating so much waste and the need for frequent battery disposal, you can opt for using rechargeable batteries instead of those of the single-use type. Rechargeable batteries provide more than 1,000 uses, and you won’t have to pay to recycle them.

As a culture, we use an overwhelming amount of single-use items. It is a dangerous practice that is killing our very existence. Even though rechargeable batteries take more effort to dispose of, it is essential for our sake and the sake of the environment that we choose them over single-use batteries. It is a much sustainable way to power our electronics.

Rechargeable Batteries

Also very commonly used are rechargeable batteries, which need safe battery disposal. They power cell phones, digital cameras, laptops, media devices, power tools, and other types of electronics. There are various types of rechargeable batteries including nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride are found in items such as two-way radios, cordless power tools, and digital cameras. All of these items offer an opportunity to recycle batteries.

Other types of batteries that are less commonly seen are small sealed lead-acid batteries that are found in security systems, mobility scooters, emergency exit signs, and other special-use items.

Should Rechargeable Batteries Be Recycled or Trashed?

Rechargeable batteries definitely need to be recycled and disposed of properly. Under no circumstances should rechargeable batteries be simply put in the trash or any kind of dumpster. In fact, it is illegal to do so in many states, with hefty fines if you are caught. They contain hazardous materials such as heavy metals and are very dangerous for us and the environment.

How Can I Recycle Rechargeable Batteries?

A great advantage of recycling rechargeable batteries is that it is typically free. Battery disposal is made easy with many participating businesses acting as battery recycling locations.

You’ll find them in places such as office supply stores, home improvement businesses, and some hardware stores. Places like Home Depot, Target, and Radio Shack have options. These businesses usually have a dropbox where you can simply deposit your unwanted batteries.

There are also businesses dedicated to the special waste disposal of electronics and batteries. These businesses are dedicated to preventing electronic waste from making it to landfills.

Look for these businesses in online directories that are designed to assist you in finding a convenient place near your home. There are plenty of battery recycling locations all over major cities where battery disposal is made easy and convenient. You are sure to find an easy way to recycle batteries properly. Plus, when you choose rechargeable batteries, you won’t need to dispose of them as often.

Primary Lithium Button Cell Batteries (Non-Rechargeable)

As previously mentioned, there’s a small amount of mercury in button cell batteries. These small round batteries are single-use and are found in devices such as hearing aids, watches, some toys, and cameras.

Besides proper battery disposal of button cell batteries, they also need to be kept away from young children who have been known to need immediate medical attention after swallowing them.

Can Button Cell Batteries Be Recycled?

Yes! Because of their mercury content, button cell batteries most certainly need to be recycled properly.

How to Recycle Button Cell Batteries

Recycling button cell batteries is easy, just drop them off at a convenient location or mail them in as you would rechargeable batteries.

Getting Your Batteries Ready For Recycling

Once you find your convenient battery recycling locations, the next step is to gather all items and get them ready for proper battery disposal. Taking these steps will ensure that you recycle batteries safely.

Prepping Single-Use Batteries

First, you’ll want to put a piece of non-conductive clear tape at both ends to keep any current transfer from happening. Instead of putting tape at the ends, you can instead place each individual battery in a bag before you recycle batteries.

Secondly, to avoid sparks, it is important that you keep the batteries in a cardboard or plastic container. This will keep the batteries from conducting electricity.

Prepping Rechargeable Batteries

Take the batteries out from the electronic items they power. If you’re disposing of a device, such as a laptop, it will have to be disposed of separately from the laptop battery. There’s an exception with cell iPods or cell phones, these are widely accepted by almost all battery recycling collectors.

Be sure to apply tape at the terminals using non-conductive clear tape. There could be additional steps if you’re mailing your battery to a recycling facility. Check with the place where you’re depositing your battery to find out their requirements.

At CJD, we recycle many different types of batteries for your convenience. Check out our list of accepted items for all the battery types we take.

Prepping Button Cell Batteries

Since these types of batteries are so small, the whole thing can easily be covered with one piece of tape.

Battery Disposal of Damaged or Broken Batteries

It is very important that you handle broken or damaged batteries with protective eyewear and gloves. If the batteries are leaking or have come apart, place them into a separate bag or approved container. Place a label on the receptacle to announce it contains damaged batteries. Do not dispose of them with the other batteries, contact the recycling service to make special arrangements.

Important Tips to Consider

Some cautionary tips to avoid dangerous accidents include:

  • Do Not Stack Button Cell Batteries: Be sure to keep the positive terminal against the tape and avoid putting the batteries together on top of one another, instead you can place another piece of tape over the negative terminals.
  • Avoid Taping Different Chemistries Together: Each type of battery should be kept separate from other types.
  • Keep Out of Reach: Batteries can be easily swallowed by children or pets. There are toys for kids and pets that are battery-operated, and thus you have to be aware of this precaution. Lithium button cell batteries found in some toys have been known to be swallowed causing severe burns and in some cases death. Go to the emergency room immediately if you suspect this has happened.
  • Keep Dry and Cool: Never leave batteries in moist places, in direct sunlight, or places that accumulate heat such as inside a vehicle on a hot summer day. Keep away from flammable or humid areas.
  • Choose a Non-Conductive Container: Containers made from cardboard or plastic serve as an additional precaution to recycle batteries. Don’t use metal containers or cans. Also, don’t include metal items with your batteries such as staples or paperclips, these can become flammable when in contact with batteries.
  • Keep Positive Terminals Secure: Remember to ALWAYS tape positive terminals on all kinds of batteries. This prevents a short-circuit from occurring.

Following these tips will ensure you keep the safety of yourself and those who will handle the batteries after you recycle them. These small extra steps go a long way and are very appreciated by everyone along the recycling line.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve read this article, it shows your interest in being a responsible member of society in the effort to recycle batteries safely and properly. The planet thanks you, the waste disposal industry thanks you, and you’ll thank yourself for keeping your home or office safe and protecting those around you.

Learn about your electronics and get familiar with the types of batteries that power them. Remember that not all batteries are made equal. Know the protocols for each type of battery and find out the special way to dispose of them.

Consult with your city and community to find out what resources they have for you to safely recycle batteries. There are many companies as well who are ready to assist you in battery disposal. Many battery recycling locations are close to your home, or you may also arrange for a shipping method.

There are plenty of resources out there to help you to safely dispose of all your batteries. You’ll be surprised all the items you have around that require this effort!