Battery Recycling – Part 1


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battery recycling
Creative Commons License photo credit: Dominik Schwind

There are a lot of types of batteries out there! And to make things more confusing, there are different disposal laws by state. So how do we do the right thing and start to understand battery recycling?

Let’s stick to good ol’ common household AA and AAAs that are used in computer mice, cameras, TV remotes… those are the ones that you go through the most. These are known as alkaline batteries and are a good start for learning battery recycling.

The good news is that in 1996, U.S. legislation required alkaline manufacturers to phase out the use of mercury in their batteries. So at least mercury won’t be leaching into the ground if these do end up in a landfill. But isn’t it better if metals, such as nickel, cobalt and silver, are recovered when these batteries are recycled? It depends on who you talk to, but metals leaking into groundwater is not ideal. Three important points with battery recycling:

1. There’s no hazardous waste issue with regular alkaline batteries, as our government has defined it, so it’s not illegal to throw them out with the trash. (Not great)

2. It’s the rechargeable batteries that contain cadmium that are considered hazardous waste and are illegal to just throw out so there’s a great national program for that.

3. The economics of alkaline battery recycling get complicated, and often it does not pay for itself.

I wish the rest of this article was as simple as numbers 1 and 2, etc, but if you’re serious about recycling instead of throwing out batteries, please read my 3-part series. 🙂 I’ll give you a hint, though- the answer is mostly in Part 3 and comes in a box.

Hopefully you are at least using rechargeable batteries. They last 3-4 times longer in a digital camera, for example (ever notice how alkaline batteries get eaten up quickly?) and they are much easier to recycle.

Battery Recycling: Rechargeable Batteries

There are two kinds of rechargeable batteries:

1. Nickel Cadmium Rechargeable Batteries (NiCd) and

2. Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium Ion Rechargeable Batteries

3. Read more about both types above as well as much more battery information on rechargeable batteries.

This is a case where Call2Recycle comes in really handy. There are drop-off locations everywhere, and it is the only free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection program in North America. There is no cost because members of the rechargeable battery and portable electronic product industry fund the rechargeable battery recycling program through the licensing of Call2Recycle’s Battery Recycling Seals. It’s a neat system, you should read more about it. So they say, “If it’s rechargeable, it’s recyclable!” AND they are very upfront about where and how the batteries get recycled in the United States. (Pennsylvania, as it turns out)

So what about those non-rechargeable, alkaline ones again? See Part 2

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