From cell phones, tablets, and laptops to power tools, children’s toys, and even wheelchairs, batteries are used to power all types of portable devices. Batteries come in two basic types:

  1. Rechargeable Batteries, which power devices such as tablets, digital cameras, cell phones, and cordless power tools and can be used more than 1,000 times. These batteries are usually lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, nickel-zinc or small sealed lead batteries  
  2.  Single-Use/Disposal batteries, which are found in remotes, clocks, flashlights, smoke detectors, and other wireless devices. Alkaline batteries are the most widely used type of single-use battery

Whether rechargeable or single-use, all batteries will eventually wear out, so it’s important to know how to properly dispose of them; which is highly dependent on what they are used for. The batteries in your TV remote, for example, should be treated differently from the rechargeable ones in your laptop or digital camera since they could be both hazardous and even illegal to throw away (depending on where you live).  Continue reading below to learn more details about the different types of household batteries and how to safely and sustainably dispose of them.

How to Dispose of Rechargeable Batteries

Most rechargeable batteries contain toxic metals that can be hazardous to both the environment and human health. Improper disposal can lead to significant consequences, such as pollution, loss of resources, and fire. That’s why handling lithium-ion and other rechargeable batteries require additional attention at the end of their life cycle. Rechargeable batteries of any kind should not be placed in your trash can or regular recycling bin. Although regulations and laws pertaining to the recycling and disposal of lithium batteries as well as other rechargeable batteries vary by state, these types of batteries must be recycled at permitted treatment facilities. You can find places to recycle your reusable batteries by:

  •  Calling your solid waste district to find out if your community has a collection program or upcoming event
  •  Locating a dropbox to recycle batteries near you.  Select office supply or home improvement stores (such as the Home Depot) accept these products for recycling by hosting a dropbox from an organization like Call2Recycle. You can also find other recycling facilities using Earth911’s Recycling Search
  • Finding battery manufacturers and recycling facilities that have mail-in programs. Before mailing your batteries, be sure to follow postal shipping precautions

Once you find a way to sustainably recycle your lithium-ion or any other rechargeable battery, you should also be mindful of how you prepare your battery for safe disposal. First, remove the battery from its electronics. This is not required for small electronics like cellphones or iPods, which can be accepted by most battery recyclers, but devices like old laptops must be recycled separately from dead laptop batteries. Once the battery is removed, cover the terminals with clear tape and/or place it in a bag without holes. It is important not to damage the batteries or place a large number of batteries together.  If you’re mailing your batteries to a recycling facility or manufacturer, check for any additional safety steps required for shipping.

How to Dispose of Single-Use Batteries

Although they’re generally non-hazardous and can be disposed of in the regular trash in most states (with the exception of California), every battery can be recycled, turned into a secondary commodity, and extend its product lifecycle. So recycling your single-use batteries is certainly considered a best practice if you have chosen a sustainable lifestyle.

The process for finding where to recycle your single-use batteries is similar to the one for rechargeable batteries:

  •  Call your local solid waste district to find out if your community has a collection program or upcoming event
  • Search the area for recycling centers that accept single-use batteries using Earth911’s Recycling Search
  • Find a mail-in recycling program that accepts batteries. Most of these programs will sell you a container to store used batteries that can be mailed when filled. Battery Solutions and Call2Recycle both offer options for recycling alkaline batteries in the mail

Even if you’re not recycling your old disposable battery, be sure to tape the terminals before getting rid of them in order to prevent fire, and place them in a container that won’t cause a spark (such as a cardboard box).

As with any product, the best thing you can do is to reduce your use of it. Rechargeable batteries last much longer than single-use ones and are there a more environmentally-conscious option. However, since all batteries eventually do wear out, it’s good to know how you can safely and sustainably dispose of them. Batteries can potentially contribute chemicals that compromise the environment and should be handled with care, particularly when it comes to disposal.

Stay tuned on our blog for more ideas on how you can reduce your use and live a more eco-minded lifestyle.