Batteries are an essential part of digital and modern life. Whether it’s a mobile phone, laptop, digital camera, or car, anything that turns on, produces light, or works without being plugged into an electrical source uses a battery. But despite the importance and ubiquity of batteries, it’s not always clear the best way to get rid of them after using them up.
It is not safe to throw away batteries. Depending on where you live, it may even be illegal to put them in the trash. Batteries contain toxic materials that can cause environmental harm if not disposed of properly. Also, some batteries may still hold a small amount of juice, which can cause a fire.
Batteries come in different types, shapes, and sizes, so it is vital to know the best way to dispose of each one. We’ll discuss the different battery types, their potential hazards, and explore the correct methods and avenues to get rid of them.
Can You Throw Away Lithium Batteries?
Lithium (Li) and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are the types of batteries used for powering devices such as cell phones, tablets, pads, and laptops. They are more common and preferred because of their high efficiency, charging power, and longevity.
While lithium batteries are less toxic compared to other battery types, they contain lithium, which is a very reactive element. Pressure or heat can cause an exothermic reaction in a lithium battery and set off a disastrous chain reaction igniting other flammable materials close to it. For this reason, you can’t throw away lithium batteries either in the trash or in a recycling bin.
To minimize the risk of fire and the introduction of hazardous chemicals into the environment, lithium batteries can be taken to a hazardous waste collection point or recycled at a recycling center. Some electronics and big box stores also accept lithium batteries from customers for recycling and disposal.
How to Dispose of Alkaline Batteries
Alkaline batteries or non-rechargeable batteries are used to power simple devices such as flashlights, remote controls, toys, and smoke alarms. You’ll find them in different sizes, ranging from C, and D, to AA, AAA, and the 9 Volt type.
In contrast to lithium batteries, alkaline batteries contain naturally occurring metals such as steel, zinc, and manganese, which means that they pose no health or environmental threat. Since they are not quite as dangerous, they can be thrown in the trash. However, the more environmentally-conscious thing to do is to recycle them since they can be recycled.
Also, some states in the U.S such as California, and a few other countries treat alkaline batteries as hazardous waste and prohibit throwing them in the trash. In these cases, you can drop off your batteries at a recycling center or with your local electronics retailer.
Button batteries may also be categorized as non-rechargeable, but they contain extremely toxic chemicals such as mercury, lithium, zinc, and silver oxide. You’ll find them in watches, toys, thermometers, cameras, and hearing aids. Because of these dangerous chemicals, you should always recycle button batteries or dispose of them at a hazardous waste collection site.
How to Dispose of Rechargeable Batteries
Unlike single-use or primary batteries, rechargeable batteries can be recharged over and over again for an extended period before disposal. There are different types of rechargeable batteries, depending on the electrolytes and electrode materials used.
Digital cameras, electric razors, cordless phones, and power tools use nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries, which contain very toxic chemicals. Lithium-ion batteries contain less-toxic chemicals compared to other rechargeable batteries like nickel-cadmium or nickel-metal-hydride batteries.
Another type of rechargeable battery is the lead-acid battery, which is very toxic due to a combination of sulphuric acid solution electrolyte and large amounts of lead. It is used in vehicles, submarines, and military installations. Small sealed lead-acid batteries can be found in security systems and emergency devices.
All rechargeable batteries can and should be recycled. These batteries pose one hazard or the other to the environment and should never be disposed of in the trash or recycle bin. Look for a recycling center, hazardous waste collection site, or a battery retailer if you wish to trade it for a new one.
How to Dispose of Car Batteries
Most car batteries use lead dioxide and sulphuric acid to get things moving in a car. When a car battery reaches the end of its usable life, these chemicals remain active. If not properly handled, these batteries can cause severe health and environmental problems.
The right way to dispose of a car battery is through a hazardous waste management site or a recycling facility. Car batteries should never be discarded in the trash or a recycle bin. If you take your battery to a recycling center, you might be paid some money depending on the type of battery.
You can also take your used battery to an auto shop or service center when you want to purchase a new one. Some auto shops will pay you or offer you a discount on a new battery or other car parts. If there’s a core charge on your purchase, you will be paid this charge when you return the battery to the retailer.
How to Store Your Used Batteries for Recycling
Before taking your batteries out for recycling, store them in their original packaging or a plastic container. If the batteries are swollen, put them in a cool, dry place such as an open-top ceramic or metallic container to prevent them from reacting with combustible materials.
Avoid keeping different battery types together as they can react with each other and cause leakage or fire. To further minimize the risk of fires, tape the positive and negative terminals of your batteries to prevent them from linking together and creating an electric current.
You should also keep old batteries away from children and pets. Small batteries, such as button batteries can be extremely dangerous if ingested by children or toddlers. For car batteries, store them in a thick, heavy-duty plastic bag to ensure any battery leaks are safely contained. When transporting them, make sure they are upright to prevent acid spills or leaks.
How to Find a Battery Recycler
The procedure for recycling may vary with each region, so you need to first look up the laws regarding the disposal of batteries in your location. If you’re in the UK, you can use gov.uk’s waste disposal website to get more information. In the U.S., Earth911 is a useful website to search for battery drop-off locations and recycling centers in your area.
Call2Recycle is another tool that can help you find a recycling site. Some electronics and hardware stores such as Target, IKEA, and BestBuy also provide drop-off points where you can recycle your batteries. If you’re recycling a car battery, you need to contact the recycling center beforehand to confirm if they accept automotive batteries.
The best way to dispose of any battery, regardless of the type, is to recycle it. Recycling batteries help to prevent fires, health problems, and leaching of hazardous chemicals and materials into the ground to contaminate groundwater and waterways. Plus, old batteries contain lots of useful materials that can be used to produce new batteries and other components.
Keep the following tips in mind when preparing your batteries for recycling:
- If you can’t recycle alkaline batteries, you can throw them in the trash if your state or country laws allow you to.
- Do not pack different types of batteries together
- Tape the terminals of your batteries before taking them out for recycling.
- Keep car batteries upright when transporting them.
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