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About Household Batteries
Each year, over 3 billion dry-cell household batteries are purchased in the United States. While handy, household batteries can contain heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, lithium, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc. If improperly disposed of, buried in landfills, or incinerated, these could harm the environment by leaching into surface water or groundwater, or escaping into the air and soil. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, consumer batteries contribute more mercury and cadmium to municipal solid waste than any other source.
Long-term exposure to heavy metals can lead to serious health problems. Cadmium can cause lung, circulatory system, or reproductive system damage. Mercury can damage the brain, kidneys, or fetuses, as well as cause genetic, neurological, or psychological disorders. Cadmium, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, and zinc have each been linked to cancer, developmental disorders, and immune deficiency.
If you are unsure of the type of batteries powering your electronics, check the label. The Battery Act of 1996 requires that rechargeable batteries containing cadmium, lead, and mercury be labeled for recycling. Additionally, this law phased out the use of mercury in batteries. The exception is button batteries, which can still contain up to 25mg of mercury. These are also made with silver or lithium, and need to be recycled.
- For items that use AAA, AA, C, or D size batteries, purchase rechargeable batteries and a charger. Rechargeables last longer, reduce waste, save you money, and are readily recyclable.
- Check to see if you already have enough batteries before buying more. Batteries can loose their charge if stored too long.
- Use solar products where possible.
- When suitable, choose hand-operated over battery-operated items.
- Plug into AC/DC when you can.
- Get the most out of each battery:
- Follow the charging guidelines provided by the manufacturer.
- Never return a fully-charged battery to the charger for an extra boost. This may shorten the life of the battery.
- Let a discharged battery cool to room temperature before recharging.
- Recharge batteries only when they are near to fully discharged.
Invest in rechargeable batteries. Over its useful life, each rechargeable battery may substitute for hundreds of single-use batteries. And, all rechargeable batteries are recyclable. While they may cost more up front, they'll save money in the long run because they last longer than disposables.
Recycling keeps heavy metals out of landfills and conserves natural resources.
Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd)
Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH)
Lithium Ion (LI-ion)
Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn)
Small Sealed Lead * (SSPb)
* Up to 11 pounds per battery
City of St. Louis Refuse Division
P.M. Electric Company
St. Louis Electronics - Wireless USA
Alkaline batteries contain manganese dioxide, graphite, steel, and zinc. Because the cost of recycling non-rechargeable batteries exceeds the value of the materials that would be recovered, fees must be charged to make recycling them economically feasible.
Once collected, the batteries are shredded and neutralized in an acid bath. The material then runs through a kiln to be dried and pressed into magnetic bricks. The bricks are transported to a steel mill for processing. In the furnace of the steel mill, zinc is fumed off into a vacuum baghouse, recovered, and sold as zinc-oxide. Manganese dioxide becomes an alloy in the production of re-bar steel.
Options for recycling non-rechargeable (primary) batteries include:
Battery Solutions, Inc.
- Batteries Recycled: Alkaline, Zinc Carbon, buttons, and all rechargeable household batteries.
- Fees: $0.85 per pound, plus shipping.
- Batteries Recycled: Alkaline, Nickel, Cadmium, Ni-MH, Iron, Zinc Carbon, and Silver.
- Fees: $94.00 for a 55-pound capacity bucket, including shipping and handling.
- Batteries Recycled: Alkaline, Ni-Cd, Ni-MH, Lead, Silver, Mercury, Lithium.
- Fees: $58.00 for a 40-pound capacity box, shipping and handling included.
- Batteries Recycled: Alkalines, button cells, and rechargeables.
- Fees: $16.95 kit includes box and pre-paid return shipping label (when the box is full, seal it and place by your mailbox for postal pickup).
Dry cell - The electrolytes in dry cell batteries are in the form of a paste, not a liquid. They 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).
Wet cell - They contain a liquid electrolyte. Batteries included in this category are lead-acid automobile, boat, and motorcycle batteries, as well as batteries that power emergency lighting, alarm systems, and industrial equipment.
Primary - Refer to single-use, disposable batteries.
Secondary - A battery that is rechargeable.
Both dry cell and wet cell batteries can be primary or secondary.