By Grainger Editorial Staff 10/24/23
Rechargeable batteries are essential to our work, powering everything from smartphones, power tools and equipment to electric vehicles. When these batteries wear out, they need to be properly disposed of to help reduce their environmental impact and potential harm to others. However, it’s estimated that less than 5% of used lithium-ion batteries are being recycled. Use this guide to help determine the best ways to safely dispose of your batteries.
It’s important to identify the type of rechargeable battery before disposal since each type requires specific handling procedures due to their chemical compositions. There are several types of rechargeable batteries found in tools and equipment, from cordless drills and drivers to saws, blowers, work lights, trimmers and more, including:
Most batteries contain potentially toxic chemicals like cadmium, lead, lithium or sulfuric acid. When old batteries are thrown into landfills, these pollutants can leak and contaminate groundwater, harm ecosystems and potentially enter the food chain. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), battery recycling prevents pollution and helps recover valuable materials like nickel, lithium and cobalt. These materials can be used in green energy technologies, reducing the need to mine for new resources. Additionally, although they may not have enough energy to power a device, old batteries can be a fire risk if handled or stored improperly. For example, between 2013 and 2020, 245 fires at waste facilities across 28 states in the United States were likely caused by lithium metal batteries or rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, according to an EPA report.
Take the following precautions to help safely dispose of your rechargeable batteries:
Check local, state and federal regulations before disposing. Regulations vary by location and can stipulate specific disposal methods and guidelines. Several states have laws that mandate specific disposal methods. For example, in California it’s illegal to throw away recycleable batteries in the trash. Many states require the recycling of rechargeable batteries. Refer to the battery disposal laws map created by Call2Recycle to find information in your state.
Rechargeable batteries can leak toxic chemicals when damaged, so it’s important to handle them carefully and avoid puncturing, crushing or exposing them to extreme temperatures. Place any damaged batteries in leak-proof containers with labels to indicate their hazardous nature to help ensure they are properly disposed of. If a battery is severely damaged, leaking or misshaped, don’t try to dispose of it yourself. Contact a hazardous materials disposal professional or your local fire department for assistance.
Search for local recycling programs or designated collection points to help ensure that your batteries are disposed of correctly to help prevent hazardous substances from potentially contaminating the soil and water. Several organizations, like Call2Recycle, offer drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries. Many retailers and manufacturers also have takeback programs for used batteries. These programs help ensure proper recycling and disposal, preventing batteries from ending up in landfills.
In addition to local recycling centers, prepaid recycling and disposal kits are designed to help recycle damaged lithium-ion batteries used in tools, phones, laptops, equipment and other devices. Each prepaid recycling kit provides all the necessary items for the recycling process, including a container that can hold a specific quantity of damaged lithium-ion batteries. Recycling facilities can provide a certificate to verify that the container’s contents were properly disposed of.
If you need to store used batteries temporarily before disposing, place them in a cool, dry and ventilated area away from direct sunlight and flammable materials. To help prevent fires and accidental contact between the batteries and other conductive objects, store batteries side-by-side in a secure container or cover the terminals with electrical tape. Always refer to manufacturer guidelines to ensure you follow current best practices on safe handling, storage and battery disposal.
Following these important steps can ensure proper disposal, reduce the risk of injury and contamination and contribute to a safer and more sustainable world.
As the demand for electric vehicles increases, proper recycling of EV batteries is necessary. Used and worn-out EV batteries can be taken to a local dealership or recycling center for repurposing.
According to the Power Tool Institute, when lithium-ion batteries with a watt-hour rating above 300 reach the end of their life, they must be shipped for final disposal to either a recycling center or back to the manufacturer. Specially designed packaging tested and certified by the United Nations is required when shipping batteries, along with proper training to help ensure all regulation requirements are met.
If you need to dispose of a large quantity of used lithium-ion batteries, consider consulting with professional waste management services or experts in hazardous material disposal. They can provide guidance and assistance in ensuring compliance with safety regulations.
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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.