Frequent Questions on Lithium-ion Batteries
On this page:
- How should I dispose of lithium-ion batteries?
- What should I do to make my batteries safe to bring to a recycling facility?
- How can I identify what products have Li-ion batteries in them?
- Why shouldn’t Li-ion batteries be put in the municipal or household recycling bin?
- Why is recycling Li-ion batteries important?
- What materials are in Li-ion batteries?
- What materials do specialized battery recyclers recover from Li-ion batteries?
- What are the storage requirements when not using Li-ion batteries?
- My computer has a battery that has swelled—what should I do with it?
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries and devices containing these batteries should not go in household garbage or recycling bins. They can cause fires during transport or at landfills and recyclers. Instead, Li-ion batteries should be taken to separate recycling or household hazardous waste collection points.
To prevent fires, which can happen if batteries come in contact with each other or with other metals, EPA recommends taping the battery terminals (or connections) with non-conductive tape. Electrical tape is preferred, but all adhesive tapes not made of metallic material will work. Alternatively, placing each battery in its own plastic bag also isolates the terminals.
The battery or device may list its chemistry on the battery’s case, instruction manuals, or product markings. There may also be symbols or icons that state the chemistry or the chasing arrow symbol with the words “Li-ion” below it.
When Li-ion batteries or the devices that contain them are mistakenly put into the municipal recycling bin, they will end up at a municipal recovery facility (MRF) that is typically equipped to recycle only household paper, plastic, metal and glass. When this happens, the batteries can become damaged or crushed during processing and may become a fire hazard. It is important to note that the chasing arrow symbol (i.e., three arrows forming a triangle) on Li-ion batteries means you can recycle these batteries at specialized battery recyclers; it does NOT mean you can put Li-ion batteries in the municipal/household recycling bin.
Reusing and recycling Li-ion batteries helps conserve natural resources by reducing the need for virgin materials and reducing the energy and pollution associated with making new products. Li-ion batteries contain some materials such as cobalt and lithium that are considered critical minerals and require energy to mine and manufacture. When a battery is thrown away, we lose those resources outright—they can never be recovered. Recycling the batteries avoids air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. It also prevents batteries from being sent to facilities that are not equipped to safely manage them and where they could become a fire hazard. You can reduce the environmental impact of electronics that are powered by Li-ion batteries at the end of their useful life through the reuse, donation and recycling of the products that contained them.
The material composition, or “chemistry,” of a battery is tailored to its intended use. Li-ion batteries are used in many different applications and many different environmental conditions. Some batteries are designed to provide a small amount of energy for a long time, such as operating a cellphone, while others must provide larger amounts of energy for a shorter period, such as in a power tool. Li-ion battery chemistry can also be tailored to maximize the battery’s charging cycles or to allow it to operate in extreme heat or cold. In addition, technological innovation also leads to new chemistries of batteries being used over time. Batteries commonly contain materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and titanium, as well as graphite and a flammable electrolyte. However, there is always on-going research into developing Li-ion batteries that are less hazardous or that meet the requirements for new applications.
Today, Li-ion batteries are made from minerals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese. Currently, cobalt, manganese and nickel are often recovered. Lithium may also be recovered, but it often must be further processed for it to be used again.
It is best to store Li-ion batteries at room temperature. There is no need to place them in the refrigerator. Avoid long periods of extreme cold or hot temperatures (e.g., dashboard of car in direct sunlight). Long periods of exposure to these temperatures can result in battery damage.
Sometimes, the battery inside a product will become swollen. The swelling indicates damage to the battery and is a potential fire hazard. Assess your situation and if there appears to be no imminent threat of fire, contact the manufacturer of the product, the retailer where it was purchased, or (depending on if you are a business or a household) your state waste management agency or your local household hazardous waste program for direction on proper management. Store the battery or device in a safe location until the proper disposal option is identified. This could be in a bucket full of a fire suppressant such as sand or kitty litter or in another location away from flammable materials. If you think you have an imminent risk of fire, you may need to call 911.