How to Recycle Rechargeable Batteries
An Overview on Recycling Rechargeable Batteries
Though somewhat of a new phenomenon, recycling rechargeable batteries is just as important as recycling disposable alkaline batteries. Not only do many types of rechargeable batteries contain toxic heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury, but they can also be recycled to recapture materials like steel, lithium, zinc, and nickel - all valuable materials that should be reused rather than chucked.
What you need to know about rechargeable batteries
There are several types of rechargeable batteries, each with their own compositions and recycling challenges. Read on to find out more:
- Alkaline rechargeables: Not to be confused with disposable alkaline batteries, these rechargeable versions are now available in many common sizes (AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt) and have the advantage of holding their charge for years (NiCd and NiMH self-discharge after about 90 days on average). They can be made with heavy metals like mercury and cadmium and therefore should definitely be recycled.
- Lithium (Li-ion): Though perhaps more expensive than other types of rechargeable batteries (especially if you’re talking car batteries), Li-ion batteries are used commonly for mobile phones and other consumer electronics. These batteries contain lithium which is a scarce metal, so your lithium battery disposable method should definitely be recycling along with other rechargeable batteries. Additionally, because these batteries can overheat, recycling lithium batteries is important in order to prevent explosive hazards posed by sending them to landfills where the temps can get quite high.
- Nickel cadmium (NiCd): Like alkaline batteries, these are less expensive than some other rechargeables, making them a cost-effective alternative to disposable batteries. Built into the price of a NiCd price is the cost of disposal because of the toxic heavy metal cadmium they contain. They should therefore always be recycled.
- Nickel metal hydride (NiMH): Made without cadmium, these are very similar to NiCd batteries although they are being used in hybrid vehicles as well as consumer electronics. Though less toxic, they can be recycled to recover nickel, iron, and even zinc, all of which are valuable.
- Nickel zinc (Ni-Zn): Though these contain no heavy metals, they can be recycled to recover nickel and zinc for reuse in other products. You should include these batteries with other rechargeable recyclables.
- Sealed lead acid: Used mostly in larger units, like motorcycles, lawn mowers, golf carts, and boats, lead acid batteries are widely recycled because of the presence of lead. When recycled, not only is the lead recovered, but also plastics, sulfuric acid, and other materials. Most companies that will replace these types of batteries for you should have recycling programs, but do ask to make sure. Alternatively, you may be able to recycle them with household hazardous waste.
Recycling rechargeable batteries
Though the EU and some states and provinces have made battery recovery mandatory, there are still many areas that lack such legislation. The onus therefore often falls on you, the consumer, to ensure that your spent rechargeable batteries are properly disposed of. Follow these steps, and you shouldn’t find the task too difficult.
- E-waste recycling programs: As many of these batteries (Li-ion for instance) come with portable electronics like cell phones that you should already be recycling, you can often just send the battery for recycling along with the device. Check with the recycling program to be sure, however.
- Retail collection sites: As with alkaline batteries, some retail stores have boxes for collecting rechargeable batteries as well, although perhaps a little less common. Our database of recycling companies will help you find a rechargeable battery recycler in your area.
- Household hazardous waste collection days: Because these batteries often contain toxic metals, many are not allowed to enter the regular solid waste stream. As such, your municipal solid waste office may have a program for collecting hazardous waste at collection sites or on designated days.
- Mail in programs: Like disposable batteries, there are now several reputable rechargeable battery recycling companies that will accept these batteries by mail. Our resource list of recyclers is a great place to start.