Should Batteries Be Tossed or Recycled?

Full frame image of the tops of batteries
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Today’s common household batteries—those ubiquitous AAs, AAAs, Cs, Ds, and 9-volts from Duracell, Energizer, and others manufacturers—no longer pose as great a threat to properly equipped modern landfills as they used to. Because new batteries contain much less mercury than their predecessors, most municipalities now recommend simply throwing such batteries away with your trash. Common household batteries are also called alkaline batteries; the chemical type is important in choosing proper disposal options.

Battery Disposal or Recycling?

Nevertheless, environmentally concerned consumers might feel better recycling such batteries anyway, as they still do contain trace amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic materials. Some municipalities will accept these batteries (as well as older, more toxic ones) at household hazardous waste facilities. From such facilities, the batteries will most likely be sent elsewhere to be processed and recycled as components in new batteries, or incinerated in a dedicated hazardous waste processing facility.

How to Recycle Batteries

Other options abound, such as the mail-order service, Battery Solutions, which will recycle your spent batteries at a low cost, calculated by the pound. Meanwhile, the national chain, Batteries Plus Bulbs, is happy to take back disposable batteries for recycling at any of its hundreds of retail stores coast-to-coast.

Older Batteries Should Always Be Recycled

Consumers should note that any old batteries they may find buried in their closets that were made before 1997—when Congress mandated a widespread mercury phase-out in batteries of all types—should most surely be recycled and not discarded with the trash. These batteries may contain as much as 10 times the mercury of newer versions. Check with your municipality; they may have a program for this type of waste, such as a yearly hazardous waste drop off day.

Lithium batteries, these small, round ones used for hearing aids, watches, and car key fobs, are toxic and should not be thrown in the trash. Treat them like you would any other household hazardous waste.

Car batteries are recyclable, and in fact, are quite valuable. Auto part stores will gladly take them back, and so will many residential waste transfer stations.

The Problem of Rechargeable Batteries

Perhaps of greater concern nowadays is what’s happening to spent rechargeable batteries from cell phones, laptops, and other portable electronic equipment. Such items contain potentially toxic heavy metals sealed up inside, and if thrown out with the regular garbage can jeopardize the environmental integrity of both landfills and incinerator emissions. Luckily, the battery industry sponsors the operations of Call2Recycle, Inc. (formerly the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation or RBRC), which facilitates the collection of used rechargeable batteries in an industry-wide “take back” program for recycling. Your big-box hardware store chain (like Home Depot and Lowes) likely has a booth where you can drop off rechargeable batteries for recycling.

Additional Battery Recycling Options

Consumers can help by limiting their electronics purchases to items that carry the Battery Recycling Seal on their packaging (note that this seal still has the RBRC acronym on it). Furthermore, consumers can find out where to drop off old rechargeable batteries (and even old cell phones) by checking Call2Recycle’s website. Also, many electronics stores will take back rechargeable batteries and deliver them to Call2Recycle free-of-charge. Check with your favorite retailer. Call2Recycle then processes the batteries via a thermal recovery technology that reclaims metals such as nickel, iron, cadmium, lead, and cobalt, repurposing them for use in new batteries.

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Talk, Earth. "Should Batteries Be Tossed or Recycled?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Talk, Earth. (2023, April 5). Should Batteries Be Tossed or Recycled? Retrieved from Talk, Earth. "Should Batteries Be Tossed or Recycled?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).