Old batteries make up about a fifth of all American household trash, and most people have no idea how to dispose of batteries. Tossing 180,000 tons of batteries into the trash each year instead of getting rid of those batteries safely and responsibly means that tons of hazardous waste are sent directly to American landfills annually. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests recycling batteries instead of trashing them, or, if you must use single-use batteries instead of recharging them, at least disposing of them safely and correctly.
Why You Should Properly Dispose of Batteries
Batteries seem like the perfectly compact little package, but sealed inside those harmless-looking cells are many harmful materials. While these materials are inside the casing of the battery, they are not a problem. In fact, they enable the battery to safely power electronic toys and games and a wide range of portable equipment. It is no wonder we throw so many batteries away each year when they are so useful for so many different gadgets.
However, inside that battery casing, there are many potential toxins. While the battery is safely inside a toy or other device, the cell almost always remains intact. Once tossed in the garbage, however, by someone who does not know how to dispose of batteries, that casing can degrade over time or even be crushed by the weight of other garbage or punctured by sharp objects. Then, those nasty toxins are released into the environment. The list of toxins includes the following:
These toxins leach into the water supply and, perhaps more problematically, batteries that become overheated may explode in the landfill, releasing these toxic substances as gases into the air we breathe. Remember, some landfills send the garbage that passes through them into an incinerator which will overheat these dangerous materials, cause an explosion, then release those poisonous gases into the atmosphere. Once these materials are in the form of a gas, it may expose people for miles around to the gases and the associated health threats.
According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, cadmium, for example, may cause lung damage, kidney disease, and even death. Lead may also damage the human nervous and reproductive systems and the kidneys. It is essential not just to keep the environment healthy but also to the safety of our communities that we dispose of batteries the right way or, when possible, use recyclable or rechargeable batteries instead.
Can I Make Money Recycling Old Batteries?
Because batteries contain so many hazardous materials, in most cases, stores will not necessarily pay you for them. After all, the store or recycling center accepting your old batteries is the entity that knows how to dispose of batteries the right way. They usually feel as if they are providing a service. However, some cities may offer programs to incentivize you to drop off batteries at the right location rather than throwing them in your dumpster, and many companies will either offer you a discount on a new product or pay a small fee for an old electronic device with the battery inside.
Just be sure you have wiped the memory on your old electronic device before taking part in such a program since your device may be disassembled and used to repair other devices. If that happens, and you did not wipe the memory, someone else could end up with access to your accounts and other personal information.
Which Types of Batteries Require Proper Disposal?
Many people believe alkaline batteries are the only batteries that must be recycled or carefully thrown away rather than just tossed in the garbage. In fact, you can safely throw away alkaline batteries because they do not contain mercury. Instead, alkaline batteries contain only zinc and manganese concentrate, steel, paper, plastic, and brass.
Technically, while these components are not fantastic for the environment, you will not likely create an environmental hazard if you throw alkaline batteries in your daily trash. That being said, all of those components are recyclable, so it is still a better option to contact your local recycling center to find out how to dispose of batteries.
Batteries with Environmental Threats
There are other types of batteries that you must recycle or dispose of carefully, however, to avoid environmental problems. They are the following:
These types of batteries are rechargeable, so you might not even think much about the need to dispose of them until one finally bites the dust. When that happens, however, you must get rid of that battery properly. These are the batteries that contain toxic materials and that are most likely to explode under pressure or heat.
Lithium-ion batteries are found in cell phones, cameras, laptop computers, and power tools. Many people do not realize, however, that another type of lithium battery, the lithium button battery, also contains toxic substances. You will find these batteries in hearing aids and watches. They are often confused with alkaline batteries since they are usually one-time use rather than being rechargeable. They are extremely hazardous despite their small size. Lithium button batteries contain the following:
Most people realize how important it is to dispose of lead-acid batteries and car batteries. After all, we have all seen the corrosion on a car battery at one point or another and realize that it cannot possibly be good for the environment, even in a landfill! Since car batteries' acid must be neutralized before the contents can be recycled, most recycling facilities for these batteries are equipped to either turn the acid into water or convert it into sodium sulfate, which is odorless and used in the manufacturing processes for laundry detergents and textile manufacturing.
How to Dispose of Batteries?
In order to know how to dispose of batteries properly, you must first determine what type of battery you are dealing with. Alkaline batteries are the most common. They come in sizes like A, AA, C, and D. If you got the battery out of a toy, for example, then it likely is an alkaline battery. You can safely toss these batteries in the trash, although many city governments do offer programs for recycling them. To be truly safe, be sure not to throw a large volume of alkaline batteries away at once. Since they may still have a little “juice” in them, many alkaline batteries together can still be hazardous and may even cause a fire.
Disposing of Lithium-Ion Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries and lithium button batteries contain several hazardous materials. Because it is so important to keep these batteries out of landfills, most cities offer multiple recycling centers for these items. You can likely drop them off at the following locations:
Most times, these shops will also accept your old electronic devices, although most consumers prefer to trade these in rather than donating them. Staples and Radio Shack, for example, will both accept used, rechargeable batteries for recycling and may accept your old devices as well. Be sure that if you are dropping off your entire device when you recycle a lithium-ion battery that you wipe the device before leaving it in order to protect your personal data and privacy.
Disposing of Lead-Acid Batteries
Like lithium-ion batteries, lead-acid and car batteries are such an environmental threat it is in everyone's best interest to make it as easy as possible to recycle these batteries. According to the Battery Council organization, almost all car batteries and similar batteries are ultimately recycled because of the general awareness of their hazardous materials. In fact, around 97 percent of all Americans know how to dispose of batteries from their cars appropriately.
Because safely disposing of lead-acid batteries is complicated, involving bashing them in a hammer mill, separating the metals from the plastic pieces, then neutralizing the acid in the battery, not just any recycling facility can take these batteries. AAA has a list of locations for dropping off car batteries, and most scrap yards and car-part retailers will accept them. Then, the business will ship them off, safely packaged of course, for recycling at another location.
Safe Battery Disposal Is Important for Everyone
There are many reasons you should be sure to educate yourself and your household on how to dispose of batteries safely and properly. First, improperly tossing a battery that contains dangerous substances could not only harm the environment, but it could also create a hazard in your own home. If the battery casing on a lead-acid battery breaks while it is in your dumpster awaiting trash day, you will have a toxic chemical spill on your hands, literally.
Second, with thousands of tons of batteries being thrown away each year, knowing how to dispose of batteries in a way that enables the facility to recycle them rather than simply wasting them can conserve massive amounts of resources. You will not only be keeping your family and your community safe, but you will also help the greater environment as well.