Disposing of Batteries

Household Battery Recycling & Disposal

Anything that makes sounds, lights up, or turns on without being plugged in contains a battery. Batteries contain toxic metals, such as lead, cadmium and lithium that can be released into the environment when disposed of the wrong way.

All types of batteries, especially lithium, or Li-ion, also hold a small amount of charge, called a “residual” charge, after they are no longer strong enough to run a camera, toy or other product. The residual charge or energy may be released as heat or fire if batteries are damaged or punctured. Batteries should always be stored so that the terminals (or + and – ends) are not touching each other or any type of metal. Store them in their original packaging which is designed to keep terminals separated.

Batteries placed in your curbside recycling bins won’t be recycled. They can’t be picked out by the staff and equipment designed to sort large volumes of paper, glass, metal, and plastic. 

Batteries that are damaged by compactor trucks or recycling facility equipment may catch all of the recyclables on fire! Fires caused by lithium and other batteries have resulted in the damage or complete destruction of recycling facilities.

Your batteries will be safely recycled if you take them to our Household Hazardous Waste facility (Haz Bin), or to a store that collects batteries for recycling.

Household batteries

Step 1: Collect and sort your batteries by type

  • Use gloves: If batteries have a white or rusty colored powder on the terminals, handle them with latex or nitrile gloves, since this powder can burn your skin.
  • Sort out all batteries with the word “Alkaline”, “General Use” or “Carbon Zinc” on the label. These batteries may be placed in the garbage, since the recyclable content is low and they are not a fire hazard. (The Haz Bin will accept them for recycling.) 
  • If you are unsure of the battery type, keep it separate from other alkaline or carbon zinc batteries and complete Step 2.
  • For all non-alkaline batteries and items that contain non-removable batteries, complete Step 2.

Step 2: Tape all battery terminals

  • ALL battery types (except alkaline) need to have the ends or terminals taped. These are generally labeled with a + or -. This prevents them from linking together to generate heat or fire. The best tape to use is packing tape or other clear tape. Using clear tape allows the HHW Program or retail store to see the battery type for further sorting.
  • Tape all button or coin shaped batteries and all lithium batteries whether rechargeable or single-use.
  • After you tape your batteries, place them in a container until you take them to a retail store or Haz Bin. The container should not be “airtight”.

All batteries, used or unused, should be kept out of the reach of children since they are a choking hazard.

Step 3: Find a battery recycler

  • Jefferson County residents can recycle household, rechargeable, and automotive batteries at the Haz Bin for free.
  • Hardware stores, such as Lowe's and Home Depot, offer rechargeable battery recycling. 
  • Batteries Plus Bulbs stores also accept rechargeable batteries for recycling. Other battery types, like alkaline, may be accepted for a fee. Contact store for details.
  • Check with the store where you purchased your batteries for recycling options. 

Remember to tape them before dropping them off!

Swollen or damaged batteries

  • Batteries that are damaged, become wet, or are stored in a device for a long period of time without use may rupture. When this happens, a clear liquid, which dries to a white or rusty colored powder will be on the battery and possibly in the device. Use gloves: place alkaline batteries in the garbage and tape all others.
  • Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries may swell up if damaged. The swelling occurs when the cells inside the battery casing rupture and react, generating heat and gas. Swollen batteries and the devices containing them should not be used due to the high risk of fire or a release of toxic gases. Carefully remove the battery, tape the terminals and take these to your nearest battery recycler as soon as you can. If you cannot remove the battery from the device, take the entire device for safe management. When dropping it off, tell retail or Haz Bin staff you have a damaged battery so they can handle it specially to prevent fires.

Store swollen batteries in an open top metal, ceramic, or glass container and keep it away from heat sources, combustible materials, and children.

Which batteries are best?

The tool, toy, or electronic product generally specifies which battery type should be used to power it. Use the type and size specified.

For products that use or include AA, AAA, C, D single-use batteries, there is generally a rechargeable option that can safely be used. Rechargeable batteries can be recharged hundreds of times before they no longer hold a strong charge and can then be recycled. The initial cost may be higher than single-use batteries, but they are environmentally superior due to savings on raw materials, including packaging and the energy to produce and ship batteries. The exception may be a camera or other device where the manufacturer specifies the use of a lithium battery. This is generally the case for electronics that require a higher energy output than can be delivered by an alkaline or other type of rechargeable battery.
 
Lithium batteries are the most “energy dense” type of battery. This means they can be smaller and lighter and still hold as much or more of a charge than other battery types. Lithium batteries are now sold in AA, AAA and C sizes. They are more expensive, because they hold more energy and last longer. The higher cost generally evens out because they last longer. However, lithium single use batteries must also be taped and brought to Haz Bin or a store so that they are safely recycled.

Reminder: Do not place any batteries in your recycling bin! It is not safe and they won’t be recycled.

 

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