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Batteries

Photo of batteries of different shapes and sizes

When you need a portable, convenient power source, you can rely on batteries. Batteries of all shapes and sizes supply power to everyday electronics like toys and power tools, but batteries also work where we don’t see them too. During a power outage, phone lines still operate because they are equipped with lead-acid batteries. Batteries help control power fluctuations, run commuter trains, and provide back-up power for critical needs like hospitals and military operations. The versatility of batteries is reflected in the different sizes and shapes, but all batteries have two common elements that combine to make power: an electrolyte and a heavy metal.

More Battery Information

The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC)’s Call2Recycle Program Exit EPA provides access to rechargeable battery locations near you. The RBRC is a nonprofit, public service organization funded by rechargeable product and battery manufacturers that educates manufacturers, retailers, and consumers about the benefits of rechargeable battery recycling.

Just the Facts

Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment when batteries are improperly disposed of. When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.

One way to reduce the number of batteries in the waste stream is to purchase rechargeable batteries.

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EPA Links and Publications

Universal Waste Battery Website
The universal waste regulations streamline collection requirements for certain hazardous wastes including batteries.

Product Stewardship Battery Website

Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act (PDF) (9 pp, 134K, about PDF)

Implementation of the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (PDF) (21 pp, 736K, about PDF)

Battery Recycling

Lead-Acid Automobile Batteries
Ninety-nine percent of all lead-acid batteries are recycled. Almost any retailer that sells lead-acid batteries collects used batteries for recycling, as required by most state laws. Reclaimers crush batteries into nickel-sized pieces and separate the plastic components. They send the plastic to a reprocessor for manufacture into new plastic products and deliver purified lead to battery manufacturers and other industries. A typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic.

Non-Automotive Lead-Based Batteries
Gel cells and sealed lead-acid batteries are commonly used to power industrial equipment, emergency lighting, and alarm systems. The same recycling process applies as with automotive batteries. An automotive store or a local waste agency may accept the batteries for recycling.

Dry-Cell Batteries
Dry-cell batteries include alkaline and carbon zinc (9-volt, D, C, AA, AAA), mercuric-oxide (button, some cylindrical and rectangular), silver-oxide and zinc-air (button), and lithium (9-volt, C, AA, coin, button, rechargeable).

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State and Federal Regulations

Many states have regulations in place requiring battery recycling. The US Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act (PDF) (9 pp, 134K, about PDF) in 1996 to make it easier for rechargeable battery and product manufacturers to collect and recycle Ni-CD batteries and certain small sealed lead-acid batteries. For these regulated batteries, the act requires the following:

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