Battery Disposal Guide for Households - Where to Safely Recycle Used Batteries

Battery Disposal Guide for Households - Where to Safely Recycle Used Batteries

Battery Recycling and Disposal Guide for Households

If you are having a difficult time finding out what to do with used batteries and where you can take them to be recycled or safely treated and disposed, then you should find a solution here on this page. Whether you have a AAA, AA, C, D, watch, button, hearing aid or car battery, there is a solution.  Use the table of contents to jump ahead to the summary table if you are not interested in the background information.

Environmental Hazards of Batteries

People are using more and more household batteries. The average person owns about two button batteries, ten normal (A, AA, AAA, C, D, 9V, etc.) batteries, and throws out about eight household batteries per year. About three billion batteries are sold annually in the U.S. averaging about 32 per family or ten per person. A battery is an electrochemical device with the ability to convert chemical energy to electrical energy to provide power to electronic devices. Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.

Batteries may produce the following potential problems or hazards:

  • Pollute the lakes and streams as the metals vaporize into the air when burned.
  • Contribute to heavy metals that potentially may leach from solid waste landfills.
  • Expose the environment and water to lead and acid.
  • Contain strong corrosive acids.
  • May cause burns or danger to eyes and skin.

In landfills, heavy metals have the potential to leach slowly into soil, groundwater or surface water. Dry cell batteries contribute about 88 percent of the total mercury and 50 percent of the cadmium in the municipal solid waste stream. In the past, batteries accounted for nearly half of the mercury used in the United States and over half of the mercury and cadmium in the municipal solid waste stream. When burned, some heavy metals such as mercury may vaporize and escape into the air, and cadmium and lead may end up in the ash.

Hazards of Household Batteries

Controversy exists about reclaiming household batteries. Currently, most batteries collected through household battery collection programs are disposed of in hazardous waste landfills. Even stores and chains that have established take-back programs admit that it often ends up in the trash. There are no known recycling facilities in the U.S. that can practically and cost-effectively reclaim all types of household batteries, although facilities exist that reclaim some button batteries. Battery collection programs typically target button and nickel-cadmium batteries, but may collect all household batteries because of the consumers' difficulty in identifying battery types.

This may change now that California has mandated recycling for "dry cell" batteries.

Regulations

Many states have regulations in place requiring some form of battery recycling. California mandates recycling for almost all battery types.

The U.S. Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act in 1996 to make it easier for rechargeable battery and product manufacturers to collect and recycle Ni-CD batteries and certain small sealed lead-acid batteries. For these regulated batteries, the act requires the following:

  • Batteries must be easily removable from consumer products, to make it easier to recover them for recycling.
  • Battery labels must include the battery chemistry, the "three chasing arrows" symbol, and a phrase indicating that the user must recycle or dispose of the battery properly.
  • National uniformity in collection, storage, and transport of certain batteries.
  • Phase out the use of certain mercury-containing batteries.

Types and Uses of Household Batteries

Lead-Acid Automobile Batteries

Nearly 90 percent of all lead-acid batteries are recycled. Almost any retailer that sells lead-acid batteries collects used batteries for recycling, as required by most state laws. Reclaimers crush batteries into nickel-sized pieces and separate the plastic components. They send the plastic to a reprocessor for manufacture into new plastic products and deliver purified lead to battery manufacturers and other industries. A typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic.

Non-Automotive Lead-Based Batteries

Gel cells and sealed lead-acid batteries are commonly used to power industrial equipment, emergency lighting, and alarm systems. The same recycling process applies as with automotive batteries. An automotive store or a local waste agency may accept the batteries for recycling.

Household batteries - Dry-Cell Batteries

Dry-cell batteries include alkaline and carbon zinc (9-volt, D, C, AA, AAA), mercuric-oxide (button, some cylindrical and rectangular), silver-oxide and zinc-air (button), and lithium (9-volt, C, AA, coin, button, rechargeable). On average, each person in the United States discards eight dry-cell batteries per year.

There are two types of batteries:
(1) primary those that can not be reused, and
(2) secondary also called "rechargable" those that can be reused.

Primary batteries include alkaline/manganese, carbon-zinc, mercuric-oxide, zinc-air, silver-oxide, and other types of button batteries. Secondary batteries (rechargeable) include lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, and potentially nickel-hydrogen.

Typical Types of Household Batteries
Primary Cells
(Nonrechargeable)
Common Uses
Alkaline* Cassettes players, radios, appliances
Carbon-zinc Flashlights, toys, etc.
Lithium Cameras, calculators, watches, computers, etc.
Mercury Hearing aids, pacemakers, cameras, calculators, watches, etc.
Silver Hearing aids, watches, cameras, calculators
Zinc Hearing aids, pagers
Secondary Cells
(Rechargeable)
Common Uses
Nickel-cadmium Cameras, rechargeable appliances such as portable power tools, hand held vacuums, etc.
Small sealed lead-acid Camcorders, computers, portable radios and tape players, cellular phones, lawn mower starters, etc.
*Some rechargeable alkaline batteries are available, but they are pretty rare.

Battery Facts and Stats:

Consumption

  • Americans purchase nearly 3 billion dry-cell batteries every year to power radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers, and portable power tools.
  • Inside a battery, heavy metals react with chemical electrolyte to produce the battery's power.
  • Wet-cell batteries, which contain a liquid electrolyte, commonly power automobiles, boats, or motorcycles.
  • Nearly 99 million wet-cell lead-acid car batteries are manufactured each year.
  • A car battery contains 18 pounds of lead and one pound of sulfuric acid.

Recycling and Disposal

  • Mercury was phased out of certain types of batteries in conjunction with the "Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act," passed in 1996.
  • Recycling batteries keeps heavy metals out of landfills and the air. Recycling saves resources because recovered plastic and metals can be used to make new batteries.
  • Household batteries contribute many potentially hazardous compounds to the municipal solid waste stream, including zinc, lead, nickel, alkalines, manganese, cadmium, silver, and mercury.
  • In 1989, 621.2 tons of household batteries were disposed of in the US, that's double the amount discarded in 1970.
  • In 1986, 138,000 tons of lead-acid batteries were disposed of in the US
  • Regular flashlight batteries can be disposed of in the trash (generally, some states, like California, have more restrictive rules) , though it is best to take them to a recycler.
  • Mercury-oxide and silver-oxide button batteries are often collected by jewelers, pharmacies, and hearing-aid stores who sell them to companies that reclaim the metals.
  • In 1993, 80 to 95% of automobile batteries were recycled

 

What you can do

Batteries are constantly being reformulated - check the labels

Source Reduction Changes in Household Batteries

Read labels. Mercury reduction in ordinary alkaline batteries began in 1984 and continues today. During the last five years, the industry has reduced the total amount of mercury usage by about 86 percent. Since 1992 most alkaline batteries are manufactured with "no mercury added". Some batteries such as the alkaline battery have had about a 97 percent mercury reduction in the product. Newer alkaline batteries may contain about one-tenth the amount of mercury previously contained in the typical alkaline battery. Some alkaline batteries have zero-added mercury, and several mercury-free, heavy-duty, carbon-zinc batteries are on the market.

Mercuric-oxide batteries are being gradually replaced by new technology such as silver-oxide and zinc-air button batteries that contain less mercury.

Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries are being researched. Alternatives such as cadmium free nickel and nickel-hydride system are being researched, but nickel-cadmium are unlikely to be totally replaced. Nickel-cadmium batteries can be reprocessed to reclaim the nickel. However, currently approximately 80 percent of all nickel-cadmium batteries are permanently sealed in appliances. Changing regulations may result in easier access to the nickel-cadmium batteries for recycling.  

Prevention of Household Battery Waste

To reduce waste, start with prevention. Starting with prevention creates less or no leftover waste to become potentially hazardous waste. The following are steps to take to prevent household battery waste.

 

  • Check to see if you already have the batteries on hand before buying more.
  • When suited to the task buy hand operated items that function without batteries.
  • Look for the batteries that have less mercury and heavy metals.
  • Consider rechargeable batteries for some needs, but remember that they also contain heavy metals such as nickel-cadmium.

Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries result in a longer life span and use fewer batteries. However rechargeable batteries still contain heavy metals such as nickel-cadmium. When disposing of rechargeable batteries, recycle if possible.

The use of rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries can reduce the number of batteries entering the waste stream, but may increase the amount of heavy metals entering the waste stream unless they are more effectively recycled. As of 1992, the percentage of cadmium in nickel-cadmium batteries was higher than the percentage of mercury in alkaline batteries, so substitution might only replace one heavy metal for another, and rechargeable batteries do use energy resources in recharging.

Rechargeable alkaline batteries are available along with rechargers.

Where to Recycle Your Batteries

Recycling of non rechargeable batteries is becoming more commonplace, but it can still be a challenge to find a local drop-off location. Recycling used RECHARGEABLE household batteries is now possible! The battery manufacturers have funded a joint recycling center. To find a center near you that will take them, click here! (in the US or Canada))( Which types do they take? Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion), and Small Sealed Lead* (Pb) rechargeable batteries are commonly found in cordless power tools, cellular and cordless phones, laptop computers, digital cameras, two-way radios, camcorders and remote control toys.

Note that California is a bit of a special case.  California regulations require recycling for more types of batteries than other states.  See this page for detailed information about how and where to recycle batteries in California.

For more information about the program and the sponsors, click on Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation  And if you are looking for companies that can recycle batteries from  businesses and governments, see this page.

If you can't find a location above: 

Take the rechargeable batteries to any of the participating retailers. In the U.S.: Alltel, Batteries Plus, Best Buy, Black & Decker, Cingular Wireless, The Home Depot, Milwaukee Electric Tool, Orchard Supply, Porter Cable Service Center, RadioShack, Remington Product Company, Sears, Staples, Target, US Cellular, Verizon Wireless, and Wal-Mart. And in Canada: Battery Plus, Bell Mobility, Canadian Tire, FIDO/Microcell, Future Shop, The Home Depot, Home Hardware, London Drugs, Makita Factory Service Centers, Personal Edge/Centre du Rasoir, RadioShack Canada, Revy, Sasktel, Sears, The Sony Store, Telus Mobility and Zellers.

Use the RBRC collection site locator, or call the consumer helpline, 1-800-8-BATTERY, to find the retail collection site nearest you.

Non-rechargeable (typically "alkaline batteries") still don't have a recycler and general just must be disposed in the trash. If you have large quantities or are a business, talk with your permitted sanitary landfill operator (otherwise known as "sanitation services", the "dump" or "landfill"). Waste batteries should not be burned because of the metals, and they could explode. When burned, some heavy metals such as mercury may vaporize and escape into the air, and cadmium and lead may end up in the ash.

Click here for one more place to try to find a recycling location near you if none of the options above were suitable.

 

Contact your local or county health department, waste disposal operator, extension educator, recycling facility, call the EPA Hotline and ask for a copy of the publication: "Used Dry Cell Batteries" - phone (800) 424-9346. This publication does not address nonhousehold waste battery sources such as medical, business, etc.
 

Summary - Real Disposal and Recycling Methods

Check with your local solid waste management district (listed under County Government in your phone book) for any outlets for household battery recycling. See if your local jeweler, pharmacy or battery retailer will accept button batteries for recycling. Ohio EPA keeps a list of battery recycling and disposal companies on file; however, these companies are usually set up to serve industrial or municipal customers with bulk amounts of batteries rather than individuals.

Battery Type

Common Name

Sizes Available

Examples of Use

Disposal classifi-cation

Proper Disposal

Alkaline 

( manganese)

Coppertop, Alkaline AAA, AA, C, D, 6V, 9V Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, smoke alarms, remote controls These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste. Place in the trash (normal municipal waste). Exceptions: California which  requires non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules.
Button Mercuric Oxide, Silver Oxide, Lithium, Alkaline, Zinc-Air Sizes vary Watches, hearing aids, toys, greeting cards, remote controls hazardous waste Bring to a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Site
Carbon Zinc "Classic", Heavy Duty, General Purpose, All Purpose, Power Cell AAA, AA, C, D

6V, 9V

Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, smoke alarms, remote controls, transistor radios, garage door openers These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste. Place in the trash (normal municipal waste). Exceptions: California -  requires non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules. Also, Minnesota (Hennipen County only) requires these batteries be disposed as a hazardous waste.
Lithium / Lithium Ion Usually has "lithium" label on the battery 3V, 6V, 3V button Cameras, calculators, computer memory back-up, tennis shoes These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste They can be recycled! To find a center near you that will take them, click here! 
Nickel-Cadmium (Rechargeable) Either unlabeled or labeled "Ni-Cd" AAA, AA, C, D, 6V, 9V Flashlights, toys, cellular phones, power tools, computer packs hazardous waste To find a center near you that will take them, click here! or Bring to a Household HazardousWaste Collection Site
Nickel Metal Hydride (Rechargeable) Either unlabeled or labeled "Ni-Li" or "Ni-Hydride) AAA, AA, C, D, 6V, 9V Flashlights, toys, cellular phones, power tools, computer packs non-hazardous waste - except in California, which requires non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules. Safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream.  These batteries are also acceptable for recycling by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's (RBRC) Battery Recycling Program.
Reusable Alkaline Manganese (Rechargeable) Renewal AAA, AA, C, D Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, radios, remote controls   Place in the trash
Sealed Lead Acid (Rechargeable)

 

"Gel," VRB, AGM, Cyclone, El Power, Dynasty, Gates, Lithonia, Saft, Panasonic, Yuasa Multiples of 2 Volts: 2V, 6V, 12V Video cameras, power tools, wheelchairs, ATV's, metal detectors, clocks, cameras hazardous waste To find a center near you that will take them, click here! Bring to a Household HazardousWaste Collection Site
Lead Acid Vehicle Batteries Autozone, Sears Die Hard, Yuasa 12V, 6V Cars, trucks, motorcycles hazardous waste Take back to place of purchase <
Most places that sell car batteries will also accept them for recycling. There may be a fee for this service.
metal recycler may pay you for your car battery. Look in the yellow pages under "Recycling Centers" for a list of recyclers.
Silver Oxide Panasonic Silver Oxide Sizes vary Watches, hearing aids, toys, greeting cards, remote controls hazardous waste Non-Consumers must dispose of these batteries in full compliance with the hazardous waste rules. Consumers are covered by the Household exemption under RCRA which allows for these batteries to be disposed of into the municipal waste stream. These batteries are also acceptable for recycling by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's (RBRC) Battery Recycling Program.
 

Other related information and sources:

Battery Manufacturer contact information

Keep in mind that the battery manufacturers have funded the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation's (RBRC) Battery Recycling Program to find a drop off location for batteries nearest you, so that you wouldn't need to call the manufacturers directly. To find a location, click to visit the RBRC homepage  or call 1-800-8-BATTERY.

Manufacturer (click the name for their website) Phone number Email address or contact form
Panasonic 1-800-211-PANA (7262) Panasonic contact form
Duracell   Duracell contact form
Eveready Energizer (i.e., the Energizer Bunny)    

Other sources of information, Links and Publications

This page was updated on 3-Mar-2014