BU-705: How to Recycle Batteries

Learn about disposal and how toxic material can continue to be used in batteries if recycled.

Lead acid contributed to the success of early recycling and today more than 97 percent of these batteries are recycled in the USA. The automotive industry should be given credit for having organized recycling early on. The recycling process is simple and 70 percent of the battery’s weight is reusable lead.

Over 50 percent of the lead supply comes from recycled batteries. Other battery types are not as economical to recycle and are not being returned as readily as lead acid. Several organizations are working on programs to make collection of all batteries convenient. Only 20 to 40 percent of cellular phone and consumer batteries are currently recycled.

The goal to recycle batteries is to prevent hazardous materials from entering the landfills and to turn the material retrieving process into a viable business. Lead acid and nickel-cadmium batteries are of special concern because of their toxicity. Li-ion and alkaline are less harmful but the aim is to recycle  all batteries.

Spent batteries should be removed from the household. Old primary cells are known to leak and cause damage to the surrounding area. Do not store old lead acid batteries where children play. Simply touching the lead poles can be harmful. Also keep button cells hidden from the children. [ See Health Concerns with Batteries BU-703 ]

Even though environmentally unfriendly, lead acid batteries continue to hold a strong market niche, especially as a starter battery. Wheeled mobility and UPS systems could not run as economically if it were not for this reliable battery. NiCd also continues to hold a critical position among rechargeable batteries. Large flooded NiCds start the big jets on airplanes and propel sightseeing boats in rivers of larger cities, pollution-free.

Toxic batteries will continue to be with us for a while longer because we have no practical alternatives. There is nothing wrong in using these batteries as long as they are properly disposed. Europe banned NiCds in consumer products because there was a suitable replacement, the NiMH battery. Controlling the disposal of NiCds from consumer products was difficult because many users do not know that the retiring equipment may include NiCd.

Each battery chemistry has its own recycling procedure and the process begins by sorting the batteries into the correct category.

Lead Acid: Recycling of lead acid began soon after the introduction of the starter battery in 1912.  Recycling lead acid batteries is relatively simple and cost effective as lead can be reused multiple times. This developed into a profitable business that laid the foundations to recycle other products.

In the late 2013, smelters started to report an increase number of Li-ion batteries being mixed in with lead acid. Including Li-ion in the recycling process for leas acid can cause fire, leading to explosion and personal injury. The physical appearance between lead acid and Li-ion is often undistinguishable and sorting at high volume can pose a challenge. For consumers a battery is a battery and folks fulfill their due diligence by including them with the recycling pallet, never mind the chemistry. As more lead acid are being replaced with Li-ion, the reported incidents from 2010 to 2013 have increased by 10-fold.

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the International Electrotechnical committee (IEC) initiate action through increased awareness, employee training battery identification and labelling. X-ray technologies to separate the battery are explored. “Who carries the liability?” is the question. Battery manufacturers put the responsibility on the recycles while the recyclers argue that the burden and sustainability of a product must be borne by the manufacturer. The courts may become the arbitrator.

Nickel-cadmium: Let’s look at what happens when NiCds are carelessly disposed of in landfills. The metallic cylinder of the cell eventually begins to corrode and the cadmium gradually dissolves, seeping into the water supply. Once contamination begins, the authorities have few options to stop the carnage. Our oceans already show traces of cadmium (along with aspirin, penicillin and antidepressants) but scientists are not certain of its origin.

Nickel-metal-hydride: Nickel and the electrolyte in NiMH are semi-toxic. If no disposal service is available in an area, individual NiMH batteries can be discarded with other household waste, however, when accumulating 10 or more batteries, the user should consider disposal in a secure waste landfill. The better alternative is bringing the spent batteries to a neighborhood drop-off bin for recycling.

Primary lithium: These batteries contain metallic lithium that reacts violently when in contact with moisture and must be disposed of appropriately. If thrown in the landfill in a charged state, heavy equipment operating on top could crush the cases and the exposed lithium would ignite a fire. Landfill fires are difficult to extinguish and can burn for years underground. Before recycling, apply a full discharge to consume the lithium content. Non-rechargeable lithium batteries (lithium-metal) are used in military combat, as well as watches, hearing aids and memory backup. Li-ion for cell phones and laptops do not contain metallic lithium.

Lithium-ion: Spent Li-ion has little commercial value and there is a price to recycle. The true cost to manufacture Li-ion is not so much in the raw materials, as is the case with lead acid, but in lengthy preparation, purification and processing of the raw material. Recycling brings the metal to ground zero from which the preparations must begin anew. It is often cheaper to mine the raw material than retrieve it from recycling. (See BU-308: Availability of Lithium)

Alkaline: With the reduction of mercury in 1996, many territories allow disposing alkaline batteries as regular domestic trash; however, California and Europe consider all batteries as hazardous waste. Most stores selling batteries are also required to take old batteries back. The reusable materials are zinc and manganese but retrieving them is a cost-incurring liability. In spite of this, efforts are being made to increase the recycling of alkaline cells from the low 4 percent in 2015 to 40 percent in 2025.

In North America, Retriev, formerly Toxco, and Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) collect spent batteries and recycle them. While Retriev has its own recycling facilities, RBRC is in charge of collecting batteries and sending them to recycling organizations. Retirev in Trail, British Columbia, claims to be the only company in the world that recycles large lithium batteries. They receive spent batteries from oil drilling in Nigeria, Indonesia and other places. Retriev also recycles retired lithium batteries from the Minuteman missile silos and tons of Li-ion from wars. Other divisions at Retriev recycle nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride, lead, mercury, alkaline and more.

Europe and Asia are also active in recycling spent batteries. Among other recycling companies, Sony and Sumitomo Metal in Japan and Unicore in Belgium have developed technology to retrieve cobalt and other precious metals from spent lithium ion batteries. Lithium can also be retrieved and is thereafter sold for non-battery usages.
 [ See Battery Recycling as a Business BU-705a ] 

 

Recycling Process

Recycling starts by sorting the batteries into chemistries. Collection centers place lead acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride and lithium ion into designated drums, sacks or boxes. Battery recyclers claim that if a steady stream of batteries, sorted by chemistry, were available at no charge, recycling would be profitable.

The recycling process generally begins by removing the combustible material, such as plastics and insulation, with a gas-fired thermal oxidizer. The plant’s scrubber eliminates the polluting particles created by a burning process before releasing them into the atmosphere. This leaves the clean and naked cells with their valuable metal content. The cells are then chopped into small pieces and heated until the metal liquefies. Non-metallic substances are burned off; leaving a black slag on top that a slag arm removes. The alloys settle according to weight and are skimmed off like cream from raw milk while in liquid form.

Cadmium is relatively light and vaporizes at high temperatures. In a process that appears like a pan of water boiling over, a fan blows the cadmium vapor into a large tube cooled with water mist. The vapors condense to produce cadmium that is 99.95 percent pure.

Some recyclers do not separate the metals on site but pour the liquid metals directly into what the industry refers to as “pigs” (65 pounds, 24kg) or “hogs” (2,000 pounds, 746kg). Other battery recyclers use the 7-pound nuggets (3.17kg). The pigs, hogs and nuggets are then shipped to metal recovery plants where they are used to produce nickel, chromium and iron for stainless steel and other high-end products.

Retriev uses liquid nitrogen to freeze lithium-based batteries before shredding, crushing and removal of the lithium and other battery components. The lithium is dissolved in a solution to make the metal non-reactive and is sold for producing lubricating greases. Similarly, the cobalt is separated, collected and sold. Some crushers use a liquid solution to prevent reactive events and reduce emission when crushed. A salt bath in a flooded chamber is a common practice. Discharge before the battery is crushed reduces the effect.

Evers so often a Li-ion starter battery gets mixed in with the common car batteries. A charged Li-ion is more explosive than lead acid and an event occurs. Efforts are being made to separate Li-ion from the regular starter batteries.

Battery recycling is energy-intensive. Reports reveal that it takes 6 to 10 times more energy to reclaim metals from some recycled batteries than from mining. The exception is lead acid because of its profitable lead content, and perhaps also NiMH for its large nickel recovery.

Each country sets its own rule and adds tariffs to the purchase price to make recycling feasible. In North America, some recycling plants invoice by weight and the rates vary according to chemistry. NiMH yields a good return for its high nickel recovery. Due to soft cadmium prices and poor yields, NiCd and Li-ion command higher recycling fees.

The flat cost to recycle a ton of batteries is $1,000 to $2,000; Europe hopes to achieve a cost per ton of $300. Ideally, this would include transportation, but moving and handling the goods is expected to double the overall cost. To simplify transportation, Europe is setting up several smaller processing plants in strategic geographic locations. Manufacturers, agencies and governments must still provide subsidies to support the battery recycling programs and recyclers receive funding from such programs.

 


Caution:
Under no circumstances should batteries be incinerated, as fire can cause an explosion. Wear approved gloves when touching electrolyte. On exposure to skin, flush with water immediately. If eye exposure occurs, flush with water for 15 minutes and consult a physician immediately.

 

Last Updated 2015-07-14


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Comments

On December 11, 2010 at 2:59pm
lisa wrote:

wow, thats cool

On December 11, 2010 at 2:59pm
joan wrote:

yeah, totally

On December 15, 2010 at 9:50am
Jerry White wrote:

Recycling cost of 1-2$K per ton =$15-$30 per battery for normal lead-acd battery disposal.  Seems out of line to me.

On December 16, 2010 at 10:59am
Michael wrote:

Is thus Jerry White from Dallas?

On December 22, 2010 at 5:20am
Jiok Q wrote:

With increase in Hybrid, Electric (EV), Plug-in Electric (PEV), and Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; we are going to have mountains of lithium-ion based batteries that will fill up our land fields if we do not recycle. It is estimated that if our cars were all of the type named above, we will produce 2 billion tons of lithium-ion batteries for our landfields every year. Just a thought.

On January 5, 2011 at 2:36am
kelspop wrote:

Recycling batteries is good topic and we need to search and invent techniques to recycle it. Because after some time we find many unused batteries.

On January 5, 2011 at 2:41pm
The Good Idea Guys wrote:

Wireless microphone systems burn through a lot of batteries. Here’s a page with helpful information about how to extend the life of your Duracell Procell wireless microphone system batteries and keep them out of the recycling process longer.

On January 5, 2011 at 2:43pm
The Good Idea Guys wrote:

Wireless microphone systems burn through a lot of batteries. Here’s a page with helpful information about how to extend the life of your Duracell Procell wireless microphone system batteries and keep them out of the recycling process longer.

http://www.buybattery.com/wireless_mic_batteries.shtml

On January 11, 2011 at 10:57am
KeLsEy wrote:

Yoyoyoyoyo thats amazing duuudes I LOVVVVEE ITT RECYLING IS AWESOMMME

On February 9, 2011 at 12:25pm
Global Battery Buyers wrote:

We can help you recycle and make some money in the process. Our company will pay you $25 per pound for Used Silver Oxide Batteries these batteries are used in watches, Hearing Aids, Calculator.

On February 12, 2011 at 10:09pm
Tom wrote:

We offer the The Marlie DCBR-50K system it has an extremely small carbon footprint, and will recycle alkaline, nickel metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries while recovering 93% of the raw materials. This patented, environmentally friendly Marlie process will eliminate the need to landfill dry cell batteries, and will do so for literally pennies a pound. And this process does not incinerated the batteries.You can all see and read about this system at this site, and if there are any questions please feel free to ask.

http://www.marlieinc.com/index.html

On April 9, 2011 at 4:36am
Al wrote:

The problem begins by sorting the batteries into chemistries. Why? ... There is many types and battery kinds. It’s impossible of perfectly sorting by quality. For the present, the recognized “qualities” are dispatched to specialized recycling centers having their own technology. A very large part of batteries are not recycled - for their elements- because of it’s impossible to sort them. Other problem: the recycled metals are often not enough pure to be reused by industrie. That is like sugar and salt mixed: not good for soup or cake!
“To simplify transportation, Europe is setting up several smaller processing plants…” In fact, the batteries from collection centers are transported to sorting centers and are transported again to recycling centers according to their kinds; each recycling center must re-sorting the material before treatment and in all case, a part return to the sorting centers, etc.
With a new technology able to recycle both all battery types with a good efficiency and 99.99 by metals and elements production, the transportation and the recycling costs will be largely reduced.

On April 27, 2011 at 7:10pm
joe wrote:

who pays the most in the states for lead acid iron clad forklift batteries

On May 4, 2011 at 10:27am
Jay wrote:

I am looking for a large scale processor (NOT JUST A COLLECTOR) of all types of batteries that is located within 200 miles of Sacramento California.

Does anyone know of such a facility?  I know of one in Anaheim California, but that is farther than I would like to ship the materials.

Thanks.

On June 21, 2011 at 5:30am
Trevor wrote:

Car batteries are profitable to recycle.
Every part gets reused.
The cases are chopped up, washed & pellatized then get added up to 80% of the feed material for new batteries.
Separator plates similarly make more plates.
Spent paste goes to plastic industry for filler
Plates , bus bars & terminals go the make more batteries up to 100% lead feed.
Only real problem is contaminaton with copper from battery leads that ge cut off with bolt cutters leaving the brass terminals on the terminal posts.

On August 11, 2011 at 4:58pm
Vinod wrote:

I have few questions….........
1. Whether recycled lead is as pure as virgin lead. If not how much?
2. A battery contains how much virgin lead & how much recycled lead?
3. Which parts in a battery use virgin lead & which use recycled lead?
4. What is recycled lead cost against virgin lead (LME) cost?
5. If recycled lead cost less, then why we use virgin lead?
6. IWhat is the landed price of virgin lead & recycled lead for a Battery manufacturer?

On August 22, 2011 at 11:28pm
Catering Equipment wrote:

Well, this is a very valuable post. Thanks for the information you provided. It would be great if got more post like this. I appreciate it.

On August 26, 2011 at 3:24pm
Joan Bouchard/Juanita wrote:

We live in Honduras. Does anyone know of Nickel Cadmium, Nickel Metal Hydride, and Li-ion battery recycling locations in Central America? The largest Department store here, Diunsa, is actively looking for such a facility.You would do the world a BIG favor if you could provide this information. HELP!! Juanita

On November 5, 2011 at 5:38am
linda perry wrote:

Attention: Sir/ Madam,

We are dealers of various types of batteries.

To view my choice product,quotation and terms, click and access

http://cripfirm.cwsurf.de/alibaba/viewtradeorder.htm

Get back to me lets proceed further.

Regards,
Linda Perry

On December 15, 2011 at 9:19am
Tony wrote:

We are looking for a battery recycler that buys alkaline batteries. We aquire approx 10,000 lbs per month.

On December 20, 2011 at 2:18pm
Tom wrote:

Tony

Maybe contact the manufactor of the batteries , they may pay you for them .

On February 1, 2012 at 11:46pm
Battery Recyclers wrote:

We pay $50 per pound for used silver oxide watch batteries and calculator batteries.  All gets recycled.  Paying $1.00 a pound for Lithium Ion Batteries.

On February 5, 2012 at 11:49am
Brian wrote:

Tony

Call us at 920-358-0103, we are a battery and electronics recycler and would be happy to discuss options with you.  We pay top dollar for all equipment and batteries.

Brian

On February 28, 2012 at 1:11am
Monica wrote:

Does anyone know where I could sell litium watch batteries I have around 50 lbs

On February 28, 2012 at 7:02pm
joan bouchard wrote:

Monica Ask Battery Recyclers, 2 comments above yours, I bet they can tell you! good luck!

On February 29, 2012 at 2:40pm
Monica wrote:

How do I get in contact with battery recyclers

On February 29, 2012 at 2:51pm
joan bouchard wrote:

read above comments from 11.5.11, 2.1.12 & 2.5.12

On March 3, 2012 at 3:17pm
Leah wrote:

Recycling batteries can actually reduce the damages of brain and kidney, which are caused by exposure of the toxic metals from used batteries. ITS A GOOD IDEA..

On March 4, 2012 at 8:13pm
joan bouchard wrote:

Thanks, Leah, I did not know about damaging the kidneys!

On May 10, 2012 at 1:18am
karthick wrote:

i want details about the scraping process of lead acid batteries.

On May 24, 2012 at 4:00pm
Battery Recyclers wrote:

Paying $50 per pound for used silver oxide watch batteries and $1.00 per pound for lithium laptop batteries, call Dan at 619-207-1629.

On June 11, 2012 at 4:54am
Matt Wilson wrote:

Hi Guys, does anyone know what I can do with the old liquid from Nickel Cadmium batteries if I was to recycle them?

Cheers

On June 24, 2012 at 4:40pm
george farnsworth wrote:

The $1000-2000 per ton is for non lead acid batteries.
These suffer from economy of scale.If millions of tons could be brought
to one place the price per ton would fall very fast to say $300-400

On September 19, 2012 at 4:10am
helen manchie wrote:

I will like to know more into batteries i did learn cell in a tech sch but now working with batteries.

On November 18, 2012 at 3:26pm
Paddy Kilrain wrote:

I live in College Park M.D. and actually called the local fire department to find out where I could dispose of my old batteries safely. The person who answered my call assured me there was no need for careful disposal - she actually made me feel like an idiot. I told her that there is a picture of a garbage can with a line through it (like Ghost Busters), but she brushed me off. Battery Recyclers and Sanitation departments should at the very least send this information to Fire Departments or another local agency where people can learn and also KNOW where to bring them. - PK

On December 15, 2012 at 7:41am
joan bouchard wrote:

The common disposable alkaline batteries now do not need to be recycled, they no longer have harmful components. HOWEVER - cell phone Lithium-Ion batteries DO need recycling, and so do worn-out Nickel Cadmium and Nickel Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries - go to your local Staples store and they should have a place to recycle those, or if they don’t they can probably give you information about where to take them. Some local libraries take recyclable batteries also (one of ours does). And in CT there is a hazardous waste collection in many towns twice a year, the schedule rotates from place to place on Saturday mornings (maybe MD does too?), those folks should be able to tell you more, or perhaps they even accept them. Thanks, Paddy, ur cool! It’s too bad local officials are so uninformed and lackadasiacal (sp?!) about this really important matter! - Joan

On January 27, 2013 at 12:09pm
Ben wrote:

I searched “how to recycle batteries” and this page was at the top.  @joan bouchard - I had to read to the last comment to get my question answered.  Can you add the pertinent part of your response to Paddy (the first 2 lines) to the top of the main article? 

Thank You - Ben

On January 27, 2013 at 12:26pm
Battery Recyclers wrote:

Many companies recycle alluminum, glass, carboard, and all the metals. Many are compensated by their state to recycle the above materials.  Than why do we, as citizens allow for hazardous materials, such as batteries to enter our landfills without a second thought.  There should be established a recycling fee added to a battery when the battery is purchased.  And than this fee returned to the purchaser upon the battery being returned for recycling just as alluminum can redemption fee is given.  Wow, what an easy solution.

On January 27, 2013 at 4:13pm
joan bouchard wrote:

Ben, I’m not the website administrator, just a contributor, so I can’t do that - perhaps you can cut and paste my response to form it to the way you want it?

I like the idea of the added fee, but the entity that collects the batteries needs to be compensated (by the state?) for doing that work - so some governmental entity has to establish the regulations that support the system. Suggest this to your state legislature!

On January 27, 2013 at 4:18pm
Tom wrote:

Hi ben
Here is a site for you to look at on Recycling Batteries . Maybe joan bouchard might want to read up on it also .

On January 27, 2013 at 4:19pm
Tom wrote:

http://www.marlieinc.com/

On February 7, 2013 at 11:41am
Bill wrote:

Could anybody help me rough out the cost of processing lead acid batteries on a per ton basis? I’m interested in understanding the cost drivers behind the recycled lead (into pure ingot form) and polypropylene waste streams.


Thanks in advance,

Bill

On July 14, 2013 at 4:32am
Shreesh wrote:

hello
thanks for all the information provided..i would like to know if lead acid battery scrap can be
used to make new batteries of the same category in the recycling process and the processes involved in it.compliance to it will be highly obliged.thank you

regards
Shreesh

On November 27, 2013 at 2:35pm
Mateo Quesada wrote:

hello

On November 28, 2013 at 3:15pm
Juan Chávez wrote:

Wow, this tópico is very interesting. Many people should know this,google our PRAE iS related to recycling batteries

On November 28, 2013 at 3:19pm
Juan Chávez wrote:

Sorry , I me ant to say topic,not tópico;and also good,not google

On November 28, 2013 at 7:10pm
Joan Bouchard wrote:

Hi everyone - In Honduras we are making progress - we now have a big-box store chain (Diunsa) that accepts Ni-Cad and Lithium-Ion batteries for recycling here.
Give thanks today for recyclers all over the world - Joan!

On January 21, 2014 at 4:51am
MOHAN RAO TELLAKULA wrote:

Can you please send the Document of Re-Cycling Process of VRLA Batteries, especially we are used in the Telecom Sectors.  I want to give resolution for the Operators.  So that it would be helpful to save our Earth & it would be useful to keeping Green Earth…... MOHAN RAO TELLAKULA

On February 4, 2014 at 12:21pm
imran wrote:

Hai
Battery lead recycling is not easy.its gives u more loss and some time unbeivable
Profit,let me explain how we face loss for example if we purchase battery we will face shortage of quantity issue’ and cost of recycling is using furnace will be 13 rupees per kg Indian money or if u melt using manually it cost 10 rupees. Over all u need to get good percentage of output but 99% u will be loss in this bussiness

On June 6, 2014 at 3:55am
paresh lodariya wrote:

i need a information for bettary recycle plan in gujarat in india for my bussiness

On July 3, 2014 at 8:05am
Linda Gaines wrote:

Where did you get the idea that it takes more energy to recycle battery materials than to use virgin materials? That is totally wrong, and the statement should be removed.

On July 29, 2014 at 3:23am
mark boucher wrote:

Great post on how to recycle old batteries. Proper care should be taken while recycling batteries in order to prevent hazardous materials and gases from entering environment. Also tell me how to recycle mobile batteries.

On October 21, 2014 at 7:42am
Omid Vandghorbany wrote:

Thanks for your useful article about recycling batteries.
I’m going to crushing some Li-ion batteries as a steps of these kind of batteries for my thesis.
But i have to fully-discharge them to ensure for safety conditions.
How can I do this?
Please help me!!!
thanks for your attention.

On November 27, 2014 at 10:06pm
sathya wrote:

thanks for giving this information..
Actually i am planing to place an industry of lead smelting plant in INDIA, for this we need your help regarding the collection of dead batteries and extracting the lead and re making of batteries.

I hope you definitely help to place a lead smelting plant in India,

thanking you sir..

On December 1, 2014 at 8:23pm
imran khan wrote:

@sathya : you can reach me for more info about leads smelting plant.

Www.globalleadalloys.com and also in +918123561118 - India

On December 28, 2014 at 12:26pm
Al Reaume wrote:

I got no answer to my question here.  I have 2000 nicad batteries the size of a “C” size flashlight battery to recycle.  Is it dangerous to do it myself? or just send them to what recyclers ?

On January 14, 2015 at 5:19pm
thuong wrote:

hello!
i have a project so i need buy some Lithium Cobalt Oxide battery( LiCoO2). it require: >40 voltage and supply 40Ah. please,someone can give me information about it?

On January 21, 2015 at 5:34am
yomi wrote:

I have large consignment of lead from used batteries. We have already separated the plastic casing from the content (lead).
I need serious buyers.

On February 24, 2015 at 12:49pm
wand wrote:

Great post on how to recycle old batteries. Proper care should be taken while recycling batteries in order to prevent hazardous materials and gases from entering environment. My contact http://www.diariodearquiteto.com.br

On April 14, 2015 at 12:12am
blog the battery wrote:

Hi - great article and comments!
I wonder if anyone knew any info on the difference between “recycling” and “closed loop” in terms of battery price.

I know that lead-acid is essentially closed loop. Generally the highest quality batteries use the bulk of virgin lead and the huge mass of starter batteries which have far lower requirements use up much of the recycled lead. True closed-loop manufacture is profitable in lead-acid batteries.

But with lithium I have heard that a true closed-loop system (in the way lead-acid is largely closed loop) where the battery material is in no way profitable and in fact would push the cost of the cells way up if implemented. This is particularly true once expensive cobalt is less frequently used in li-ion batteries.

So if li-ion batteries had to be broken down and remade as new li-ion batteries, what would be the cost of the recycled cell? Anyone seen such info anywhere?