What To Do With Old Alkaline Batteries – Whether you’re using a flashlight, cordless power tool, or cell phone, battery-powered technology makes your life easier. But what happens to batteries when they reach the end of their useful life? We tell you how to safely recycle batteries – where, how and why to do it. This is important because some batteries can explode or catch fire if not handled properly.
When batteries end up in landfills, the toxins they contain can leach into the ground or into nearby water sources. Accidental or improper ignition of batteries can also release toxic fumes into the air.
What To Do With Old Alkaline Batteries
“A landfill is a living organism,” said Ed Green, senior vice president of Retrieve Technologies, Inc. “[A study of landfills in the late 1980s] found that batteries accounted for less than half of landfills, but 86 percent of mercury pollution and 56 percent of cadmium came from household batteries.”
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Depending on the battery chemistry, improper disposal can even be dangerous. For example, improperly disposed lithium and lithium-ion batteries can catch fire.
“Throwing rechargeable batteries, and especially lithium batteries, in the trash is a bad idea,” said Lynn Rubinstein, director of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. executive director. “They are very, very volatile. Entire recycling facilities have been burned from one lithium battery.”
Recycling batteries helps prevent potentially toxic products from ending up in landfills. Batteries can also be broken down into their components and the materials can be reused to make new products.
Laws regarding recycling or disposal of batteries vary depending on where you live. For example, in California and Vermont, it is illegal to throw batteries in the trash.
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“It’s almost always a local issue,” Rubinstein said. “In most cities, the filling and recycling department is the public works department. In some cities, it’s the board of health. Check the community website to find out who to ask.
To find a recycling option near you, check with your local municipality first. If you have a rubbish and/or recycling kit, it may contain instructions for battery disposal.
If you can’t find local information, check out Call2Recyle. Call2Recycle is a federal recycling program with battery collection centers nationwide. You can find a battery recycling center near you using the Call2Recycle website.
Most national hardware stores and supermarkets have battery recycling programs. For example, Home Depot and Lowes have partnered with Call2Recycle to provide pickup locations nationwide.
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If you don’t have a convenient drop-off location, you can always send used batteries to a recycling service instead of throwing them in the trash. Retriev Technologies, Inc.’s Big Green Box program allows businesses and households to collect and return all types of batteries for sorting and recycling at their facilities.
For single families, there is a small green box that is smaller and less expensive. They are even collecting and recycling alkaline batteries, which are not recycled at many facilities due to their high cost.
For most recycling centers, place your batteries in a plastic bag to prevent battery alkaline from leaking and leave them at the drop-off location. Battery recyclers sort them properly.
For some batteries, you will need to cover the terminals with clear tape to insulate them while viewing the battery information.
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“Some batteries require that the terminals be insulated because they can generate heat that can cause a fire,” Green said. “Scotch tape or tape over the terminals is an easy way to do this.”
Green said they only separate alkaline batteries, nickel-cadmium batteries and nickel-metal hydride batteries if they are above 9 volts. Apart from these three batteries, all other batteries must be isolated regardless of voltage.
With batteries that are small or difficult to remove — like button cells, for example — Rubinstein suggested throwing away the entire device rather than go through the trouble and risk.
“If you’re struggling with it, stop struggling,” Rubinstein said. “If you no longer need the device, put it in the Call2Recycle bin.”
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This is especially true for cell phone and laptop batteries, which should not be attempted to be removed for your own safety.
“Don’t try to remove the battery from your cell phone or laptop,” Rubinstein said. “The way batteries are installed and their contents can easily ignite. If you try to remove them, they will break.”
Rubinstein said Call2Recycle and many other recycling programs accept cellphones, laptops and all electronics for recycling in such cases.
If your batteries are leaking, swollen, or have a metal shell on the outside, they may be corroded.
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Rubinstein says it’s safe to dispose of corroded alkaline batteries in the trash in a plastic bag, but handle corroded lithium batteries with extreme care.
Rubinstein: “A corroded lithium battery is very dangerous.” “Don’t put him in a box. Put it in a ziploc bag, put it in clean cat litter, put it in a plastic [container] and take it to the hazardous waste program. Keep it in your house and don’t put it in your garage.”
For more information on environmentally friendly products and practices, see the Green Day page. The Light & Power section of the Preparedness page has several articles on batteries and backup power, including: As we use more batteries in our daily lives, our ability to dispose of them is struggling to keep up.
Alkaline batteries are separated and thrown into the trash at a hazardous waste site in North Seattle, where people can dispose of everything from car batteries to lithium-ion batteries, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. Washington lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the number of batteries being used, continuing the decade-old Kingship and battery program in Washington. (Amanda Snyder/)
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At first glance, you might think that Phil Currie is holding the world’s most unappetizing chocolate bar. But a damaged computer battery—shiny, dark, and broken up into bloated squares in a big Ziploc—poses more of a health risk than Hershey’s.
“We can’t put them in with other batteries because that could cause a fire,” said the site’s environmental specialist, standing among drums and boxes full of battery waste at the North Seattle hazardous waste facility. Located between North Aurora Avenue and Holler Lake and decorated with whimsical frog sculptures, the collection area north of Stone Avenue is one of four sites in King County where county residents can routinely drop off hazardous waste, including batteries.
As battery-powered devices become an important part of our lives, more and more people are using batteries, from laptops to electric vehicles that wean us off of fossil fuels. But in the end, anything with a filler should be carefully disposed of. Rechargeable batteries such as nickel, lithium-ion, and lead-acid batteries can be recycled into silverware, cookware, stainless steel, and even new batteries. Disposable alkaline and lithium batteries can also be recycled into steel, with the former ending up in a variety of products such as road asphalt and sunscreen.
This creates more opportunities for people to dispose of batteries improperly, polluting the environment and posing a health risk to waste disposal facilities.
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Many batteries can be recycled with the help of people like Kerry and her colleague Diana Doyle. Recycling makes it possible to reuse important metals and minerals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, which are increasingly rare and often acquired inhumanely.
“I often see people wanting to do the right thing,” Doyle said. “Most of the time, they literally, bless their hearts, get a battery … from five miles away.”
A man dumps a bag of batteries at a hazardous waste site in North Seattle, where people can discard anything from car batteries to lithium-ion batteries, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. (Amanda Snyder/)
But many people don’t know or don’t have the resources to properly dispose of batteries. Those involved in recycling and hazardous waste management in King County, as well as environmental advocates, are concerned that existing county and state systems and voluntary take-back efforts by manufacturers cannot safely meet the demand. Consumers need more help to dispose of their batteries safely, affordably and fairly.
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“We’re taking all these great steps to help ourselves and our environment. And now we realize there are consequences because we don’t have a system in place to deal with all of these products, including the batteries that we’re making right now,” said Tristen Gardner, who works on battery policy for the county.
King County collects hazardous waste from at least 2.1 million residents and 60,000 businesses in 38 cities, unincorporated areas and two tribal nations, and has been collecting batteries for at least 15 years. In 2019, the Hazardous Waste Management Program collected 90,000 pounds of batteries from homes and 4,000 pounds from businesses. Home batteries account for almost 18% of King
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