Battery disposal isn’t always straightforward. Does my battery go in the recycling? Do I just throw it away? What exactly do I do with my battery?
We understand. Battery disposal, and lithium-ion battery recycling in particular, can easily complicate recycling and trash pickup.
It’s important to help the environment. Rumpke is dedicated to reducing the number of batteries that go into the landfill by educating residents and business owners about the risks of mixing old batteries with trash and curbside recyclables. The easier it is to identify hazardous batteries, the more likely it is that a community will embrace a battery collection program.
Should Batteries be Thrown in the Trash?
Proper battery disposal depends on the type of battery. Many batteries contain elements such as mercury, cadmium, lead, silver, and nickel. Others include critical minerals. Materials like cobalt, lithium and graphite from batteries can be reused and saved by recycling. Preserving resources and discarding batteries safely can benefit the entire community.
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead acid batteries are the most heavily controlled batteries. Throwing them in the trash is prohibited.
Lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion), are capable of holding a small residual charge, even when that charge isn’t strong enough to operate a tool or toy. This lingering energy is dangerous if the battery is damaged. Lithium-ion batteries must always be safely recycled, either by sending the battery back to the manufacturer or disposing of it at a drop-off location.
While it’s always best to recycle all batteries, depleted alkaline batteries do not require industrial waste management in most geographies because these batteries no longer contain mercury. Many cities and states allow alkaline batteries to be thrown in the trash; however, they are not allowed to be thrown in curbside recycling bins.
Always check curbside guidelines in your geography before throwing away potentially hazardous waste.
Types of Batteries
Single-use batteries can be made of alkaline, carbon-zinc or lithium. They’re often sold as traditional household batteries or button cell batteries.
Lithium single-use batteries are increasingly popular for electronic devices. They are manufactured to hold more charge, which translates to longer use and less waste.
Given how many batteries are used and depleted every year, it’s no surprise that making efforts to recycle can go a long way at saving space in landfills.
Rechargeable batteries are an efficient alternative to single-use batteries and come in many different sizes. They are manufactured to fit traditional AAA, AA, C, D, and 9-volt battery systems as well as formats to operate cell phones, digital cameras, cordless power tools, and other technologies.
They can be charged multiple times to restore charge efficiently. Reuse cuts down on overall waste. Rechargeable batteries are identified by their labels, so if you’re not sure what you have, check for Ni-Cd (Nickel Cadmium), Li-ion, Ni-MH (Nickel Metal Hydride), Ni-Zn (Nickel Zinc), or Pb on the outer packaging.
Rechargeable batteries have helped to reduce overall waste, but they don’t last forever. When a battery no longer holds a charge or depletes its charge quickly, it’s important to understand how to safely dispose of it.
Lithium-ion batteries have a high energy-per-unit mass relative to other batteries. They are available as single-use batteries, but more often as rechargeable batteries. That’s what makes them so popular for laptops, cordless power tools, electric vehicles, and more.
A difference in lithium-ion batteries is that they can reserve a small amount of charge even after they seem depleted. If the battery is damaged, this charge becomes highly combustible.
Lithium-ion batteries can swell, becoming a great risk for transport. Damaged, discarded batteries are dangerous for waste management crews as well as the motoring public. Please contact your local solid waste district to learn about proper disposal services and procedures in your area.
Automotive lead-acid batteries have long been used for vehicles, but increasingly, large rechargeable battery packs for electric vehicles are also growing in use. All batteries for vehicles must be properly managed and recycled, especially lead acid batteries. Auto repair centers and car dealerships share a responsibility in helping vehicle owners recycle old batteries. They may also offer a discount towards the purchase of a new vehicle battery.
Best Practices for Disposing of Batteries
Residential homeowners and businesses alike must take steps to promote battery recycling. Common best practices include:
- Put old batteries in plastic bags, or cover the ends of battery terminals with clear packing tape. This prevents lingering charge from releasing in the event of contact.
- Locate your nearest disposal site or look for battery drop-off events in your community. When in doubt, Call2Recycle is another great resource that promotes battery recycling across the country.
- If you can’t remove the battery from an old device, bring the entire device to a facility recommended by your local solid waste management district for it to be properly disassembled.
- Check for battery returns. Some battery manufacturers accept returns via the mail, but it’s important to follow postal shipping guidelines before putting old batteries in the mail.
Rumpke’s Battery Recycling Guidelines by State
Ohio prohibits the disposal of batteries containing lead and sulfuric acid. These hazardous materials are most commonly sold for automotive purposes. Retailers are accountable for helping consumers learn more about proper disposal requirements.
Signs must be placed in stores to inform customers about the requirements and offer customers the option of discarding an old battery at the store in exchange for a new battery.
Full guidance from the Ohio EPA on battery disposal
Kentucky makes Household Hazardous Waste facilities (HHW) available for residents and business owners. It is illegal to discard lead acid batteries in landfills, therefore most auto centers will happily take old batteries to help consumers properly recycle them. They also offer discounts towards the purchase of a new battery with the trade-in to support environmental efforts.
Find battery recycling facilities by county in Kentucky
The state of Indiana supports battery recycling at community collection sites. While the state notes that batteries are not recyclable at the curb, auto retailers and other sites are authorized to help manage battery recycling.
Information about recycling batteries in Indiana
In West Virginia, lead acid batteries must be recycled at an automotive battery dealer, wholesaler, or a lead smelter for safe handling. Retailers must advertise the sale of lead acid batteries and make consumers aware that spent batteries can be returned to the same facility.
FAQ - Battery Disposal
Why is it dangerous to throw batteries in the trash?
Batteries, especially lithium-ion batteries, can harness a small amount of charge even after they no longer work. When damaged or punctured, this charge can lead to battery combustion and cause fires and damage affecting vehicles that transport batteries, workers, and the community landfill.
Can batteries be recycled?
Yes! Most batteries can be easily recycled, but not through your curbside recycling program. Recycling batteries helps to mitigate risks associated with combustible batteries, and makes it possible for some materials to be reused in the development of new batteries.
Household hazardous waste collection programs and business incentives support responsible recycling.
What are the penalties for throwing away a battery?
Many batteries are classified by the EPA as universal waste under 40 CFR part 266 subpart G. Disposal of those batteries won’t result in persecution; however, lead acid batteries are prohibited in landfills. Penalties for disposal of lead acid batteries include prosecution and fines for both consumers and businesses.
What happens to batteries when they are thrown away?
Improperly disposed of batteries can leach hazardous components, causing a fire risk and possible contamination.
How to Dispose of Batteries with Rumpke
It’s increasingly important for communities to reduce waste and improve their efforts to help the environment. Residential and commercial customers alike can benefit from adopting safe disposal practices for used and damaged batteries. Rumpke recommends checking with retail stores and household hazardous waste facilities to identify the best disposal options.
Rumpke is dedicated to helping our local communities thrive. For more information about recycling batteries in your area, fill out a service request form today.