What to do with old, spent batteries has become an environmental issue as more and more battery-powered items hit the market every year, amassing an ever-increasing number of batteries for disposal. Due to their chemical makeup, batteries cannot be thrown in a fire because they will explode. Therefore, laws and regulations are becoming more stringent. California, for instance, mandates recycling for all “dry cell” batteries. Subsequently, the average consumer must continue to stay aware of rules regarding battery disposal.
Disposal of Hazardous Waste
Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries (either labeled “NI-CD” or unlabeled) that come in 9-volt, 6-volt, D, C, AA and AAA can be found in computer packs, power tools, toys and flashlights. These batteries are considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of at household hazardous waste collection sites. These sites, according to Environment, Health and Safety Online, add batteries to the problematic hazardous waste landfills.
Lead-acid vehicle batteries in cars, motorcycles and trucks are also classified as hazardous waste. Most places that sell these batteries, however, offer to recycle them for a service fee, but a metal recycler may buy the used battery from the owner.
Button batteries composed of zinc-air, alkaline, silver oxide or mercuric oxide that are found in watches, toys, remote controls and watches are hazardous waste and must be taken to a household hazardous waste collection site. Another option is to check with local pharmacies and jewelers to see if they will accept them for recycling. Button batteries that contain lithium do not contain mercury. But they must be fully discharged to eliminate any metal reaction when placed with other batteries. Thus, if the battery button cell is fully spent, it can safely be discarded in the trash.
Silver oxide batteries are found in remote controls, greeting cards, toys and watches. Although considered hazardous waste, they can be recycled or simply thrown into any trash receptacle.
Rechargeable sealed lead-acid batteries used in power tools, wheelchairs, ATVs, clocks, metal detectors and video cameras are considered hazardous waste and can go to a household hazardous waste collection site.
Disposal of Lithium
Most lithium batteries found in hearing aids, defense applications and cameras are not rechargeable and therefore must be completely discharged before disposal. This must be done to ensure that all the metallic lithium is fully consumed.
Although lithium batteries do not contain toxic metal and therefore are deemed nonhazardous by the federal government, they do have flammable and toxic electrolytes. Electrolytes cause the metallic lithium to ignite when exposed to moisture during the time it takes for the cells to corrode. Placing these batteries in sealed plastic bags before disposing of them will eliminate this threat. They can then be stored prior to recycling.
Deposit in Local Trash
Alkaline or manganese, carbon zinc, and nickel metal hydride (unlabeled or labeled “Ni-Hydride” or “Ni-Li”) can all be thrown in any trash can. Duracell warns to never store or dispose of large numbers of alkaline batteries together as some batteries may not be fully discharged and when these come in contact with each other, they can cause safety risks.
Rechargeable alkaline manganese and nickel-metal-hydride rechargeable batteries can also be tossed into local trash.
Used primarily in laptops and cell phones, lithium-ion batteries do not use metallic lithium and therefore offer no disposal problems and can also be deposited in local trash cans.
Battery Recycling Program
Recycling rechargeable batteries can be challenging, but battery manufacturers have sponsored recycling centers on the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp.'s Battery Recycling Program (RBRC) found at Environment, Health and Safety Online. Some nickel-cadmium batteries such as those used in portable power tools, hand-held vacuums and cameras are rechargeable, along with small, sealed lead-acid batteries found in cellular phones, portable radios, computers and camcorders. These can be recycled through the RBRC.
The Big Green Box
This international program (United Nations-approved) sends a box to any consumer, company, municipality and any other generator for a low pre-paid rate. After the box is filled with alkaline, NiCd, NiMh, lead, silver, mercury or lithium batteries and electronics such as laptops, personal digital assistants, calculators, power tools, cell phones and cameras, it is sent back to a recycling facility. No paperwork is required and all handling disposal fees and shipping are included in the pre-paid fee.
- Environmental Health and Safety: Battery Recycling and Disposal Guide for Households
- Battery University: Recycling Batteries
- Duracell: Disposing of General Purpose and Alkaline Batteries and Recycling Batteries with other Chemistries
- Big Green Box: Easy Battery Recycling with the Big Green Box
- Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection: Managing Household Batteries
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images
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