How to Dispose of Old Batteries

Most of us would have a hard time getting through a single day without batteries. They power everything from our flashlights and remote controls to our phones, laptops and cars. Batteries are essential, but what happens to all those old batteries after we’re done with them? 

More than 3 billion batteries are thrown out each year in America alone. Some are recycled, but most are not. 

One of the greatest barriers to recycling batteries is that many Americans don’t know how to recycle them, or may not even be aware that batteries can be recycled. It also doesn’t help that laws and regulations regarding disposal of used batteries vary widely. Many states have their own laws, and even at a city or community level, access to battery recycling services is inconsistent at best. 

If you’ve been throwing your old batteries in the trash and are looking for a better option, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to know about how to recycle batteries, and what kinds of batteries can be recycled. 

Disposing of Single Use Batteries

The most common batteries that end up in landfills are single use batteries, also known as primary batteries or non-rechargeable batteries. These include the most common alkaline AAA, AA, C, D and 9-Volt batteries we use every day. 

Alkaline batteries are the most widely used single use batteries. At present, it is generally considered safe to throw away alkaline batteries in your everyday household trash (the only exception is in California, where it is illegal to throw away batteries of any kind). 

But just because you can throw alkaline batteries in the trash doesn’t mean you should. Alkaline batteries can be recycled, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends sending used alkaline batteries to a battery recycler or checking with your local/city agencies to see what options you have available to you. 

Disposing of Lithium Batteries

There are two types of lithium batteries. The first are lithium-metal batteries, which are single use batteries, and the second are lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable. 

Both types of lithium batteries should be recycled whenever possible, but your options may vary. Similar to alkaline batteries, single use lithium-metal batteries have limited value in terms of their component materials. As a result, recycling opportunities for them are minimal in most parts of the United States. Rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries are another story. 

Disposing of Rechargeable Batteries

More so than any other type of battery, it is highly recommended that all rechargeable batteries be recycled. In fact, there are quite a few states in which it is against the law to throw away recyclable batteries in everyday household trash. 

That rule applies to lithium-ion batteries, nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, nickel-zinc and sealed lead batteries, all of which contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment if they end up in a landfill. These types of batteries also contain valuable heavy metals, which makes them more lucrative to recycle. Therefore, better systems are in place to recycle these types of batteries. 

Where to Take Your Batteries for Recycling

Now that we’ve established which types of batteries can and should be recycled, where do you actually take your batteries once they’re ready to be recycled? The number of options available to you depends on where you live, but you do have options. 

Start Local

The first place to research battery recycling is your town, city or county’s website. There you should be able to find information about any local laws that may be in effect regarding disposal of batteries, as well as a listing of any battery recycling centers, community collection programs or recycling services in your area. 

Know Your State Law

It’s also important to know the law in your home state, because regulations vary quite a bit from state to state when it comes to battery recycling. Several states, including Florida, Michigan and New York, have laws stipulating that rechargeable batteries may not be mixed in with municipal waste, and California has made it illegal to dispose of any battery in such a manner. 

About two dozen states have some regulation regarding battery recycling, but in many cases these laws only apply to lead-acid car batteries. For a more thorough guide to state battery laws, the Battery Council International is a great resource.

Battery Recycling Resources

Many retailers (including many of the places that sell batteries) offer collections for old rechargeable batteries. Electronics retailers like Best Buy are among the most well-known, along with pharmacies like Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS. 

Home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot also have recycling bins where you can drop off old rechargeable batteries, including lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, nickel-zinc and small sealed lead batteries. Unfortunately, options to recycle single use alkaline batteries are often more limited. 

A great resource to recycle batteries of all kinds and find more battery recycling options near you is Call2Recycle, a company that specializes in battery recycling. In addition to offering options to drop off or ship your old batteries, Call2Recycle also offers a search tool with which you can find battery recycling in your area by typing in your zip code. 

Safety Tips for Disposing of Old Batteries

Whatever type of battery you need to get rid of and whatever means you end up using to recycle or dispose of it, it’s important to keep safety in mind. Batteries can pose a variety of hazards, even if they are seemingly empty, so take a few safety precautions: 

  • Before throwing away or recycling any battery, either seal it inside an individual plastic bag or use plastic tape to cover its terminals (electrical tape, duct tape and clear plastic packaging tape are all viable options). Because used batteries almost always still contain a small amount of charge when you throw them away, they can pose a fire hazard if the terminals come into contact with a metal object, including other batteries.
  • Keep batteries, including old batteries that are ready for recycling, in a cool, dry place. Exposure to the elements and extreme temperatures can cause a risk of battery damage or rupture.
  • If you have a battery that appears to be bulging, swollen, ruptured or otherwise damaged, place it in a non-flammable material like cat litter or sand and keep it in a cool, dry place until you are able to dispose of it or have it picked up.

How to Avoid Battery Waste

Recycling your batteries whenever possible is a good way to avoid sending unnecessary batteries to landfills. Another good way to reduce the environmental impact of battery usage is to use rechargeable batteries instead of single use batteries whenever it is feasible to do so.