Batteries are becoming increasingly popular as the world gradually transitions to cleaner energy. Batteries have a strange twist. What do you do when they die?
You may have a drawer full of loose batteries you need help with. Batteries can be recycled, whether they are single-use or rechargeable.
States have different policies for battery disposal. For instance, California considers discarded batteries hazardous waste and makes throwing them in the trash illegal. There are many options for disposing of batteries safely in California, including local drop-off centers and mail-in services. In San Francisco, residents who live in single-family homes or small multifamily buildings can
It doesn’t matter if you live in an area where it is legal to throw away old batteries. The majority of batteries contain heavy metals such as cobalt and nickel that are potentially toxic. By keeping them away from landfills, these metals won’t leak out and pollute the environment or drinking water. Only 10% the 5 billion batteries purchased in the United States every year are recycled. Recycling batteries is also beneficial because the metals inside are valuable and can be mined to make raw materials.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, is responsible for about 50% of the raw cobalt produced in the world. This has been associated with armed conflict and human rights abuses. It also involves harmful environmental practices. The “lithium triangle” is a region with large lithium reserves near Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile borders. While the mines may be economically beneficial to the state, they come at a high social and environmental price. Mining in this area regularly removes large quantities of groundwater from an arid environment where the local communities’ only drinking water source is mountain runoff.
How to recycle batteries
The United States Geological Survey has classified cobalt and lithium as critical minerals. Critical mineral, however, is considered “economically and strategically important” for the United States because they pose a high risk to human health or the environment if they are not adequately managed.
This process involves sorting, cutting, melting, and extracting the metals from the batteries. The materials from alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries are shredded to separate paper, plastics, and metal. Materials are used to create new batteries and products.
Check your local website, recycling center, or waste center to find where to drop off or send your batteries. Home Depot and Lowe’s will accept batteries because the materials are valuable. You can use the Earth 9-1-1 recycling locator to locate a place near you that recycles old batteries.
The Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act was passed in 1996. This act phased out the practice of treating single-use batteries as hazardous waste. The average general-purpose alkaline battery is made from steel, zinc, manganese, potassium, graphite, and paper. About 40 years ago, single-use lithium batteries became famous because of their lighter weight, higher energy output, and longer life. The same goes for the shiny zinc disc batteries you use in your hearing aid or watch.
Rechargeable batteries (found in mobile phones, laptops, and other electronic devices, as well as digital cameras and power tools) are not allowed to be thrown in the household garbage bin. Recycle them instead through drop-off or take-back programs, mail-ins, or other recycling methods. These batteries contain more heavy metals, which can be hazardous to the environment.
Once they have reached the end of life, you can recycle vehicle batteries through your car manufacturer or similar drop-off programs. Vehicle batteries are getting more efficient as technology advances.
A project funded by Toyota Research Institute in March 2021 combined machine learning and knowledge from experimental physics to understand the shorter lifetimes of lithium-ion fast-charging batteries. The goal is to create a battery for electric vehicles that can be recharged in 10 minutes. Harvard researchers developed a long-lasting lithium-metal battery in May of that year that can be charged and discharged at least 10,000 times. This technology could extend the life of electric vehicles by reducing the need to change the battery.
A 2014 study published in Sustainable Energy Technologies and Assessments found that reusing the batteries of electric vehicles (EVs) when they reach their end-of-life could lower CO2 emissions by up to 56%, compared to using gas fuel to generate electrical power (similar to switching from a traditional vehicle to an EV).
Residents can also use Earth911’s recycling resource to search for a program in their area quickly.
There are also mail-in recycling programs that accept batteries. These programs sell containers to store batteries, which can be mailed once complete. Buying a Big Green Box may be cost-effective if you have a large office or business that uses many batteries. Battery Solutions offers battery recycling in North America—Call2Recycle, a nonprofit organization that offers many resources and options. You can also contact local home improvement shops like Home Depot to find out where to drop off your batteries.
After you have decided how to recycle your batteries, take the time to prepare them. Place a piece of non-conductive tape on each end and store them in a cardboard or plastic container that won’t conduct electricity if a spark occurs. If you are mailing your batteries to the recycling facility, they may require extra safety measures.