How to Recycle or Dispose of Batteries

Waste-disposal centers and retail stores commonly recycle household batteries.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

How to Recycle Batteries
Recycling Batteries / Ecolife / Sander Tamm

An Overview On Recycling Batteries

We’re a power-hungry culture, looking for ways to energize everything from mobile phones to laptops to electronic toys to iPods. Our desire to have gadgets and electronics with us wherever we go has created a huge market for batteries of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, with this ever-growing demand comes a growing hazardous waste problem. On average, Americans purchase and throw away 3 billion dry-cell batteries and 99 million wet-cell batteries annually.

Though small, batteries that contain concentrated heavy metals like cadmiumlead, and mercury can contaminate soil and groundwater. As such, they are considered hazardous waste by many municipalities, including the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Disposable, non-rechargeable battery types

Convenient and relatively cheap, single-use, disposable batteries are what most consumers reach for when they’re looking to replace spent AAs, AAAs, Ds, and the like. These batteries are made with a wide variety of materials to accommodate the various size requirements:

  • Alkaline (common household batteries)
  • Carbon zinc (common household batteries)
  • Mercuric oxide (button batteries for medical equipment) – contains mercury
  • Silver oxide (button batteries for calculators, watches, etc) – contains silver
  • Zinc-air (button batteries for hearing aids, pagers, etc) – may contain mercury

The long-term cost of powering devices like remote controls and flashlights with disposable batteries is high. Especially when you consider that most batteries will have to be replaced several times during the life cycle of the device.

Reusable, rechargeable battery types

Unlike disposable batteries, rechargeable batteries are made to be used, recharged, and then used again, hundreds of times over. A single rechargeable battery can be substituted for hundreds of single-use batteries, making them highly economical, though they require a somewhat steeper upfront cost. Here, too, there are several types of batteries to choose from, depending on your power requirements:

  • Alkaline (common household batteries)
  • Lithium-Ion (used for mobile phones, laptops, etc) – contains lithium
  • Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) (used in power tools, household gadgets, smoke alarms, etc.) – contains cadmium (a substance banned in the EU)
  • Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) (similar uses as NiCd) – made without cadmium
  • Nickel zinc (Ni-Zn) (used in mobile phones, power tools, laptops, toys, etc.)
  • Sealed lead acid (used in medical devices, UPS, etc.) – contains lead

How to recycle or dispose batteries

As you can see, the list of metal combinations used to create batteries is pretty long. However, recycling batteries is still relatively straightforward:

  • Recycle all batteries: Some sources may tell you that not all batteries are recyclable. This is not true. The first step toward responsible disposal of used batteries is to make it a habit of recycling each and every type of battery used in your household.
  • Separate for battery disposal: By and large, different methods are used to recycle disposable and rechargeable batteries. It is therefore important that you separate these types of batteries and dispose of them differently.
  • Explore all battery recycling avenues: There are many routes you can choose to recycle your various batteries, including drop-off locationsmail-in programs, and hazardous waste collection days.