What You’re Supposed To Do With Dead Batteries
Batteries are electrochemical devices that can convert chemical energy to produce electrical energy to supply power to electronic devices, such as a computer mouse, a remote control, and toys. Batteries can be purchased almost anywhere, even in dollar stores. In fact, each year Americans buy roughly 3 billion dry-cell batteries, so there’s lots of batteries being purchased and used.
Types of Batteries
Dry cell batteries is a broader term of batteries which include carbon zinc and alkaline (9V, AA, AAA, C, D), mercuric-oxide (rectangular, cylindrical, button), zinc-air and silver-oxide (button), and lithium (9V, AA, C, button, coin, rechargeable). Approximately one American would dispose of 8 dry cell batteries in a year. It’s important to note that some batteries are classified as hazardous and some aren’t, so disposing of batteries will depend on the type.
One of the most common types of dry cell batteries (single-use) are the alkaline (or coppertop), rechargeable alkaline manganese, and carbon zinc batteries (6V, 9V, AAA, AA, C, D). These types would be used in flashlights, clocks, smoke alarms, and remote controls and are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste. They can be disposed of safely in the trash (except for in California).
Button batteries (single-use) which are made of lithium, mercuric oxide, silver oxide, and zinc-air, are typically used in watches, hearing aids, greeting cards, and remote controls and are classified as hazardous waste and must be disposed of at a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Site.
Lithium and Lithium Ion batteries (3V, 6V, 3V button), which are typically used in cameras, calculators, cell phones, laptop computers, and digital cameras are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste, but should be recycled. See below for more information.
Nickel-Cadmium (rechargeable) batteries which may be labelled Ni-Cd are classified as hazardous waste and must be brought to a battery recycling collection site or a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Site.
Nickel Metal Hydride (rechargeable) batteries which may be labelled Ni-Li or Ni-Hydride are classified as non-hazardous waste, except in California, and can therefore be disposed of safely in the trash, but may also be recycled at battery recycling collection sites.
Sealed lead acid (rechargeable) batteries (2V, 6V, 12V) are often found in cameras, power tools, wheelchairs, metal detectors, and clocks are classified as hazardous waste and need to be disposed of at Household Hazardous Waste Collection sites.
Lead acid vehicle batteries (12V, 6V) often found in cars, trucks and motorcycles are considered hazardous waste and must be safely disposed of and cannot be disposed of as household trash. Most of these types are recycled as required by most state laws. Usually, you can take it back to the place of purchase, as retailers that sell car batteries will usually accept them for recycling purposes.
Why was it so bad to throw away batteries?
In the past, single-use batteries like AA, AAA were made from harmful heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel, so it was said to never throw these types of batteries in the trash. However, in the early 1990s, many companies began removing these harmful materials, like mercury, from the battery manufacturing, so they are now safer to toss in the garbage can.
According to Duracell, their household batteries only contain steel, zinc, and manganese and can be safely disposed of as garbage.
Though safe to toss, due to the chemical materials within a battery, it still can cause some harm to the environment if they aren’t disposed of properly. Considering all the different types, when batteries are incinerated, some of the heavy metals can be released into the air. Some of the effects include polluted lakes and streams when the metals vaporize into the air, heavy metals potentially leaching into soil, groundwater or surface water, exposing lead and acid, and it can cause burns or danger to eyes and skin.
Throwing away an alkaline or single-use battery is not a major issue, but one should especially avoid dumping a large amount of batteries in the garbage, as they are often not completely dead. There may be safety risks when groups of batteries come into contact with one another. If disposing a larger quantity (say dozens or more), it would be best to contact your local waste disposal company or municipal waste disposal department for further instructions.
As of 2015, California has made it a law that requires people to recycle all batteries, because all types are classified as hazardous waste. Apart from the state of California, it may not be illegal to throw single-use alkaline batteries in the trash, but it is still better to recycle them at collection sites instead, or if there are no locations nearby, you can participate in programs that allow you to mail them in for recycling. There are drop-off, mail-in, or take-back programs available, which you can find more information here.
Why Recycle Batteries?
Recycling batteries help keep heavy metals out of the air and landfills. It also saves resources as some of the recovered plastic and metal can be used to produce new batteries.
Companies like Energizer have created new batteries with more recycled battery materials which last longer, with the goal of manufacturing fewer batteries and creating less waste. Energizer has also said they are committed to investing in recycling technologies and improving the processing to maximize the quantity and quality of materials that can be recycled.
Rechargeable batteries often cannot go in the trash either, since they usually contain heavy metals like nickel cadmium that can be hazardous to the environment unless they are recycled responsibly and properly.
Where can we recycle batteries?
Participating retailers that should be collecting rechargeable batteries include the following:
U.S. Retailers: Alltel, Best Buy, Batteries Plus, Black & Decker, Sears, Staples, The Home Depot, RadioShack, Target, Verizon Wireless and Wal-mart
Canadian Retailers: Canadian Tire, Sears, Bell Mobility, Best Buy, Lowes, Future Shop, The Source, The Home Depot, Staples, Home Hardware, RadioShack Canada, The Sony Store, Telus Mobility, Zellers
Other resources to find recycling locations, collection sites and more info:
Consumer helpline: 1-800-8-BATTERY to find the recycling location nearest you.
Recycling location search and other extremely helpful information can be found here.
iRecycle (Mobile App)
Download this mobile app to find recycling info and recycling locations, providing resources and access to recycle over 350 materials. (U.S. only). Click here for more.
Other Helpful Battery Tips
- Reducing waste starts with prevention. Before buying more batteries, see if you have any already that you can use.
- If possible, buy electronic devices that can function without using batteries.
- When purchasing batteries, look for ones with less/no mercury and less heavy metals.
- Consider rechargeable batteries, which last longer than single-use batteries, though they still contain heavy metals. Using rechargeable batteries would require buying fewer total batteries and fewer batteries to dispose of.
- When disposing batteries, never dispose of them in a fire, as they could explode.
- When disposing batteries, tape the ends of regular batteries, as they could still have a little spark left and potentially start a fire if they come into contact with other batteries.
- Remove batteries from devices that won’t be used for extended periods of time.