Types of batteries

Most types of batteries can be recycled. However, some batteries are recycled more readily than others, such as lead-acid automotive batteries (nearly 90% are recycled)and button cells (because of the value and toxicity of their chemicals).Other types, such as alkaline and rechargeable, can also be recycled.

Lead-acid batteries

These batteries include but are not limited to: Car Batteries, Golf Cart Batteries, UPS Batteries, Industrial Fork-Lift Batteries, Motorcycle Batteries, and Commercial Batteries. These can be regular lead acid, sealed lead acid, Gel Type, or absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries.These are recycled by pounding them, neutralizing the acid, and separating the polymers from the lead. The recovered materials are used in a variety of applications, including new batteries.

Silver Oxide Batteries

Used most frequently in watches, toys and some medical devices silver oxide batteries can become highly hazardous at the end of their useful life. After a period of use of approximately five years the batteries may begin to leak their contents which contains mercury, posing a serious health risk. The mercury will begin to corrode the inner shell of the battery. In most jurisdictions there exists legislation to regulate the appropriate handling and disposal of silver oxide batteries in order to minimize the risk to public health and the environment.These are recycled by shredding them and recovering the mercury.

Battery options

United States

Battery recycling is the USA is explained in more detail at the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Also in USA, Batteries Plus Stores recycle many types of batteries as part of the industry recycling initiatives through the Battery Council International organization.

Just the Facts

  • Americans purchase nearly 3 billion dry-cell batteries every year to power radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers, and portable power tools.
  • Inside a battery, heavy metals react with chemical electrolyte to produce the battery’s power.
  • Wet-cell batteries, which contain a liquid electrolyte, commonly power automobiles, boats, or motorcycles.
  • Nearly 99 million wet-cell lead-acid car batteries are manufactured each year.
  • Mercury was phased out of certain types of batteries in conjunction with the “Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act,” passed in 1996.
  • Recycling batteries keeps heavy metals out of landfills and the air. Recycling saves resources because recovered plastic and metals can be used to make new batteries.

Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.

One way to reduce the number of batteries in the waste stream is to purchase rechargeable batteries. Nearly one in five dry-cell batteries purchased in the United States is rechargeable. Over its useful life, each rechargeable battery may substitute for hundreds of single-use batteries.

EPA Links and Publications

Universal Waste Battery Web Site
The universal waste regulations streamline collection requirements for certain hazardous wastes including batteries.


Battery Recycling

Lead-Acid Automobile Batteries
Nearly 90 percent of all lead-acid batteries are recycled. Almost any retailer that sells lead-acid batteries collects used batteries for recycling, as required by most state laws. Reclaimers crush batteries into nickel-sized pieces and separate the plastic components. They send the plastic to a reprocessor for manufacture into new plastic products and deliver purified lead to battery manufacturers and other industries. A typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic.

Non-Automotive Lead-Based Batteries
Gel cells and sealed lead-acid batteries are commonly used to power industrial equipment, emergency lighting, and alarm systems. The same recycling process applies as with automotive batteries. An automotive store or a local waste agency may accept the batteries for recycling.

Dry-Cell Batteries
Dry-cell batteries include alkaline and carbon zinc (9-volt, D, C, AA, AAA), mercuric-oxide (button, some cylindrical and rectangular), silver-oxide and zinc-air (button), and lithium (9-volt, C, AA, coin, button, rechargeable). On average, each person in the United States discards eight dry-cell batteries per year.

  • Alkaline and Zinc-Carbon Batteries
    Alkaline batteries, the everyday household batteries used in flashlights, remote controls, and other appliances. Several reclamation companies now process these batteries.
  • Button-Cell Batteries
    Most small, round “button-cell” type batteries found in items such as watches and hearing aids contain mercury, silver, cadmium, lithium, or other heavy metals as their main component. Button cells are increasingly targeted for recycling because of the value of recoverable materials, their small size, and their easy handling relative to other battery types.
  • Rechargeable Batteries
    The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), a nonprofit public service organization, targets four kinds of rechargeable batteries for recycling: nickel-cadmium (Ni-CD), nickel metal hydride, lithium ion, and small-sealed lead. Its “Charge Up to Recycle!” program offers various recycling plans for communities, retailers, businesses, and public agencies.

State and Federal Regulations

Many states have regulations in place requiring battery recycling. The U.S. Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act (PDF) (9 pp, 134K, About PDF) in 1996 to make it easier for rechargeable battery and product manufacturers to collect and recycle Ni-CD batteries and certain small sealed lead-acid batteries. For these regulated batteries, the act requires the following:

  • Batteries must be easily removable from consumer products, to make it easier to recover them for recycling.
  • Battery labels must include the battery chemistry, the “three chasing arrows” symbol, and a phrase indicating that the user must recycle or dispose of the battery properly.
  • National uniformity in collection, storage, and transport of certain batteries.
  • Phase out the use of certain mercury-containing batteries.

More Battery Information

The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) is a nonprofit, public service organization funded by rechargeable product and battery manufacturers that educates manufacturers, retailers, and consumers about the benefits of rechargeable battery recycling.