Battery Recycling battery

The recovery rate for lead acid batteries was 98 percent in 1995.
(Source: Battery Council International)

Battery technology is becoming increasingly important with the rise of portable computing, remote data monitoring and electric vehicle research. Unfortunately batteries contain metals, acids and other compounds that can be bad when released into the environment.

How to recycle the most common battery types

Alkaline & Carbon-Zinc ("Heavy Duty") dry cell batteries, Disposal:

Consumers in the USA have few options for these types of batteries. The experts recommend individuals place these with normal household trash, unless your trash is incinerated or you are restricted by local regulations. Some communities collect batteries as part of a recycling program, but the batteries generally end up in a hazardous waste landfill. Several reclamation companies are now processing these batteries, so the situation may improve soon.

Rechargeable batteries provide the only alternative. Ni-Cd batteries may be recharged many times, but have much less capacity than alkalines. Rayovac sells a line of reusable alkaline batteries called "Renewal", which have a large fraction of the capacity of a regular alkaline, but only last for 25 or so charges. Do not send any type of dry cell battery to facilities designed to recycle other rechargeables.

Nickel-Cadmium batteries, Recycling:

Nicad rechargeable batteries can be recycled, and it is important to do so because of the toxic metal cadmium contained in the batteries.

Rechargeable Batteries

Nickel-Cadmium rechargeable batteries ("NiCads") contain cadmium, a metal that causes blood and reproductive damage , among other problems. These batteries are commonly used in portable telephones, power tools, radios and video tape recorders. Several states now prohibit consumers from dumping these batteries into the normal trash. These batteries pose little hazard in use (the Cadmium is in a stable form), but are a danger in landfills. To conform with most state laws the actual battery must have a warning and recycling logo.

The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) is an industry funded group promoting battery recycling. Manufacturers pay a fee to use the logo and support the costs of the eventual collection of the batteries they sell.

The RBRC provides free postage paid collection boxes and support materials to retailers:

  • For the location of the nearest drop-off location call 1-800-8BATTERY.
  • Radio Shack and several other chains have placed collection boxes in stores.
  • You may also mail batteries directly to the recycling contractor. Note! -- the contractor has received a large number of batteries of the wrong types.
  • Please send ONLY spent rechargeable NiCad batteries.
  • Place the batteries in a Zip-Lock type plastic bag, place in a padded envelope, and mail third class, fourth class, or UPS ground to:
    RBRC, C/O INMETCO, 245 Portersville Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117.

Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Recycling:

Many newer laptop computers and other portable use Nickel Metal Hydride or Lithium-Ion batteries. Battery retailer Power Express will accept reasonable numbers of batteries by surface mail or UPS Ground for recycling.
Package to prevent electrical short circuits and send to:
Power Express Batteries, ATTN: Battery Recycling,
14388 Union Avenue, San Jose, CA 95124 (USA).

Button Cell Batteries, Recycling / Proper Disposal: Most small, round "button cell" type batteries contain mercury, silver, cadmium, lithium or other heavy metals as their main component. These materials leak in landfills, can enter the water table, and are even worse when incinerated. Button Cells are increasingly targeted for recycling because of the value of recoverable materials, the hazard to the environment, and the small size and easy handling relative to other battery types.

Many shops that replace watch and hearing aid batteries will accept your batteries for recycling at no charge. Check with a jeweler, watchmaker, or volume retailer like Pay-less or K-Mart. If you have your watch batteries replaced, be sure to ask if the battery will be recycled.

Stores & repair shops can purchase plastic-lined collection/shipping containers from MERECO 1218 Central Ave, Albany NY 12205 1-800-833-3505. Believe it or not, the batteries are sorted by part numbers looked up in a reference guide. Obviously a better type marking system is needed, and perhaps one that allows batteries to be sorted by machine.

Automotive batteries, Recycling:

Automotive batteries contain lead. Lead is both toxic and valuable; in the US over 95% of all automotive batteries are recovered and recycled. Virtually any place that sells batteries will take them back, most state laws require it. Unfortunately many batteries are sent to overseas smelters with poor environmental and worker health records; you might ask where your battery will be sent. Domestic recycler EXIDE has a good reputation.

Non-automotive lead-based batteries (Gel Cells, SLA, etc), Recycling:

Gel cells and sealed lead-acid batteries are commonly used in industrial equipment, emergency lighting, and alarm systems. The same recycling process applies as with automotive batteries, but not all retailers will understand this. An automotive store may accept the batteries, you can try a security dealer, The Battery Council International at (312) 664-6610, or your local waste agency.

Good resources for comparison, care and feeding of batteries are Cadex Electronics, the IBET Rechargeable Battery Tutorial and NiCad Ramblings.

Green Networld
Westfield, Massachusetts

Last update: 11/09/1999