battery recycling

Battery Recycling

The fascination of electronic gadgets is leading to a potentially lethal side effect – battery pollution, which is rapidly becoming a prevalent and dangerous global pollution issue.

An essential part of modern life; batteries not only power all consumer electronics, but also provide support for transportation, military operations, hospitals and utilities. Statistics show that on an average, six wireless products are used by consumers on a daily basis and cell phones are replaced every 18–24 months. All these batteries add to the toxic waste stream.

Batteries have two elements that assist in the creation of power: an electrolyte and a heavy metal. After sustained use, all batteries eventually weaken and reach the end of their life cycle. The used battery turns to hazardous waste, which is poisonous to the environment. Recycling batteries keeps them out of groundwater supplies and other areas of the environment.


Battery Pollution Concerns

Batteries contain heavy metals – lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, and lithium, depending on the type.

While these toxic materials pose no threat to human health when in use, it is when they are spent and improperly disposed off that the toxic materials within these batteries turns extremely dangerous to the environment.  

As a regular practice, most used batteries are trashed and make their way to a landfill. The untreated toxins in the heavy metals then seep into soil, groundwater, streams and lakes causing contamination. Batteries can be dangerous even when they are “thermally treated.”  During the process, the heavy metals are released into the air; the resultant ash also pollutes the environment.

The extent of the potential harm caused by mercury pollution can be explained by looking at an example from Japan.  In the 1960’s, hundreds of people were killed, paralyzed and crippled, after eating fish contaminated by mercury waste from a chemical plant.

Benefits of Battery Recycling

•    Recycling batteries rather than allowing them to release their toxic metals in a landfill ensures soil and water are not polluted, thus helping keep the environment safe.

•    The metals and plastic from the batteries are reused, reducing the need for raw materials.

•    Since recycled materials are used in the manufacture of new batteries, the new batteries cost less, saving the consumer money.

•    With the large global demand on batteries, recycling helps reduce significant space in landfills.


Battery Recycling Process

The recycling process varies between batteries with different chemistries.

•    Lead-acid automotive batteries – These are the type used in motor vehicles. About 95% of these batteries are recycled.  They are either collected for recycling by the local waste agencies and automotive stores or by retailers selling these batteries.

The plastic components of these batteries are separated by crushing them into small pieces. The plastic and the purified lead are then used by manufacturers in the creation of new plastic products and batteries, as well as in other industries.

•    Nonautomotive lead-based batteries – Used in industrial equipment, alarm systems, and in emergency lighting.

The recycling process is similar to automotive batteries. These batteries may be given to a local waste agency or an automotive store for recycling.

•    Dry-cell batteries – Rechargeable, alkaline, button-cell, and zinc-carbon batteries are dry-cell, and are used in most consumer products.

Often local retailers will take depleted batteries back from customers.


Today, most countries have recognized the dangers caused by batteries and have legislation in place that requires proper disposal and recycling. Governments are encouraging people to reduce their waste volume and recycle potential waste as much as possible.

In the US, there are laws that prohibit disposal of batteries and retailers are required to accept used batteries. In North America, there is a battery collection program called “Call2Recycle” that collects rechargeable batteries and cell phones for free.  In Switzerland, batteries are handed over at the supermarket for recycling.  In some places, there are drop off centers for the disposal of used batteries.  Belgium is one country that has been highly successful in battery recycling.