How to Dispose of Batteries Safely and Responsibly
Plus, where to find a drop off site near you.
We live in a high-tech, wireless world where everything from our mobile devices to remote controls and children's toys are all battery operated. With so many household batteries being used in rotation, it can be hard to know the best way to dispose of them once emptied of energy. "With increased reliance on batteries, action is critical to moving the needle on battery recycling," says Carl Smith, CEO & president of Call2Recycle, Inc. "Despite fewer retail locations selling and accepting used batteries along with increased battery safety incidents, we are continuing to see greater consumer awareness to recycle batteries."
Here are our best tips for safely handling and disposing of household batteries.
Types of Batteries
Basic single-use batteries, such as AA, C or 9-Volt, are made with either Alkaline, Carbon Zinc, or Lithium. These batteries are non-toxic, but can leak over time and are combustible at high heat. Small coin-size batteries used for hearing aids, watches, and cameras typically contain silver oxide or zinc, but there are still some with mercury on the market. Rechargeable batteries can make a positive impact on the environment by lowering the number of single-use batteries, but some contain toxic materials. Lithium ion and nickel metal hydride rechargeable batteries are non-toxic. Lead acid gel batteries, found in wheelchairs, scooters, and golf carts, contain the toxic heavy metal lead and can cause a fire if short-circuited. Nickel-cadmium batteries contain the toxic heavy metal, cadmium, and are often used in rechargeable electronics and power tools.
Where to Recycle Batteries
The safest way to dispose of batteries is to recycle them, but that's often easier said than done. Some retailers—such as Best Buy and Home Depot—offer battery recycling bins at most of their store locations. If you don't live near a retailer that offers battery recycling, you can find a local battery recycling drop off site near you. From these recycling collection areas, batteries are sorted and repurposed into new products.
Best Practices for Safety
Both Energizer and Duracell voluntarily stopped using mercury in alkaline batteries in the 1990s, and now use metals, such as steel or zinc, that don't pose a serious health or environmental risk during normal use. However, it is still recommended that batteries be recycled instead of added to normal household waste. Specifically, California requires all household batteries to be recycled.
To protect the life of your batteries and keep your household safe, follow these battery safety practices as outlined by the experts at Duracell: Always use the correct size and type of battery specified by the manufacturer of your device. Store batteries in their original packaging, in a dry place and at normal room temperature until ready to use. (Extreme temperatures reduce battery performance and may also lead to leakage.) Replace all used batteries in your device at the same time. Don't mix and match new and old batteries. Keep all batteries in a safe place away from children and pets, particularly the small coin-sized batteries. Seek medical treatment immediately if they are swallowed. Remove batteries from your device if it will not be used for several months. (Many devices don't power off completely when switched off and, after time, may cause the batteries inside to leak.)
How to Recycle Batteries
Most batteries—regardless of type—contain toxic chemicals, such as lead, lithium, or sulfuric acid. And if your old batteries end up in a landfill, pollutants like these can leak out into the environment. Even seemingly dead batteries can produce enough energy to short circuit, overheat, and start a fire if they are stored improperly. Until you can return household batteries to the recycling facility, be sure to store them in a dry place at a normal room temperature. (Myth buster: There's no benefit to refrigerating batteries.)
Return batteries regularly to recycling facilities so that you don't build up a collection of dead batteries. Until you take them in, store them in a non-metal container in a well-ventilated area. Don't mix batteries with other items or you risk overheating and leakage.