Every year in the United States, Americans buy, use and throw out billions of batteries. The demand for batteries can be traced largely to the rapid increase in cordless, portable products such as cellular phones, video cameras, laptop computers, and battery-powered tools and toys. Because some types of batteries still contain toxic constituents, such as mercury and cadmium, they can pose a potential threat to human health and the environment if improperly disposed. Batteries, especially those with toxic constituents, should be recycled. Manufacturers and retailers have important roles in helping to reduce the environmental impact of batteries by redesigning batteries in ways that eliminate or reduce toxic constituents and by making them more recyclable at the end of their useful life. Manufacturer and retailer participation is also key to increasing recycling opportunities for batteries.
Over the past decade, the battery industry, partly in response to public concerns and legislation, has played an active role in finding solutions to these problems. Industry efforts have touched on every stage of the product life cycle:
- Redesign - Some battery manufacturers are redesigning their products to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic constituents. For example, since the early 1980s, manufacturers have reduced their use of mercury in batteries by over 98 percent.
- Reuse - Battery manufacturers are producing more rechargeable batteries each year, relative to the number of non-rechargeable batteries produced. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has estimated that U.S. demand for rechargeables is growing twice as fast as demand for non-rechargeables.
- Recycling – Manufacturers and retailers are working to help increase the collection and recycling of used rechargeable batteries. See link to Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation below. In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (9 pp, 134K, about PDF) and many states passed legislation prohibiting incineration and landfilling of mercury-containing and lead-acid batteries.
For more information on batteries, including relevant legislation, industry initiatives and publications, please visit EPA’s Common Wastes and Materials Battery page.
EPA’s Universal Waste Battery Web Site. The universal waste regulations streamline collection requirements for certain hazardous wastes including batteries.
Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) : RBRC is a nonprofit, public service organization funded by rechargeable product and battery manufacturers. RBRC educates manufacturers, retailers, and consumers about the benefits of rechargeable battery recycling and, with the help of retailers and others, provides convenient collection points for recovery of rechargeable batteries. While originally limited to nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries, the RBRC recycling program has since expanded to include all portable rechargeable battery chemistries.
Battery Council International (BCI) : This organization, representing lead-acid battery manufacturers, promotes the recycling of spent lead-acid batteries and the use of recycled materials in the production of new ones.
INFORM Inc. Community Waste Prevention Toolkit Reduce, Recharge, Recycle! Preventing waste from batteries.