Unraveling the Mystery of Battery Recycling

recycle bin filled with batteries

Many of us have heard at some point or another that batteries should be recycled, not just thrown in the trash. For many, though, the questions of how, when and where to do so aren’t very clear, especially considering batteries aren’t often included on the list of items typically allowed in home recycling bins, such as water bottles, aluminum cans and cardboard.

With President Bill Clinton’s 1996 signing of what’s now known as The Battery Act, the use of mercury in most types of batteries was banned, and countrywide initiatives to recycle batteries containing hazardous substances such as lead and nickel-cadmium began. While tossing single-use batteries in the trash (such as those used in flashlights or remote controls) is now allowed in many states, throwing away rechargeable batteries and button cell batteries found in watches is often illegal due to the EPA’s federal Universal Waste Program.

With today’s society relying more and more on wireless technology powered by rechargeable batteries, learning how to easily (and legally) dispose of the batteries you use is even more important. Here are some tips on how to recycle your household batteries, whether they’re from an old computer, cell phone, tablet, flashlight or your latest-model drone.

Prepare Your Batteries for Safe Handling

Because most batteries contain potentially harmful materials and are subject to corrosion and the transfer of electric currents, it’s important to prepare old batteries for handling so they can be safely recycled. Whether you’re planning to recycle your batteries by mail or through a drop-off program, you should take the the following steps:

  • With the exception of certain small electronics such as iPods and cell phones, you must remove each battery from its electronics. This includes laptop batteries, as old computers must be disposed of separately from their batteries.
  • To reduce the risk of batteries short-circuiting, place nonconductive clear tape or masking tape over each battery’s terminals.
  • Store batteries in a dry, cool place in a cardboard or plastic container. Avoid placing batteries near metal of any kind, and be sure to keep them far away from any type of flammable materials.

Find a Recycling Site Through Call2Recycle.org or Earth911’s Recycling Search

Fortunately, while state recycling regulations and programs differ throughout the country, there are two immensely helpful and informative resources on battery recycling that anyone can easily access online.

  • For many, Call2Recycle will be the most reliable and comprehensive resource for quickly finding out how to recycle single-use and rechargeable batteries in your city and state. This national nonprofit battery-recycling organization partners with thousands of local government municipalities and businesses throughout the United States to educate consumers about their local battery-recycling regulations and provide information on drop-off locations.
  • Similarly, Earth911’s comprehensive database allows individuals to enter the type of item or battery they wish to recycle along with their zip code and see a list of nearby businesses and government sites that accept batteries for drop-off. The phone number and address of each site are also included so residents can easily call to find out more.

Once you take the few simple steps above to learn how to recycle batteries, you’ll know exactly what to do the next time you’re disposing of a tech gadget or electronic item. The small amount of time invested upfront will make recycling easy and rewarding. Don’t forget to share your newfound knowledge with your friends. They — and the environment — will thank you.