Batteries of all types contain many metals and chemicals such as nickel cadmium (Ni-CD), alkaline manganese, mercury, nickel metal hydride (NiMH), lithium, lithium–ion, Zinc carbon, Zinc air, Zinc chloride, Silver oxide, Mercuric oxide and lead acid which can contaminate the environment if not disposed properly. For example, when batteries containing hazardous cadmium, mercury and other chemicals are disposed in the landfills, they will eventually breakdown and may release toxic substance(s), posing possible serious health hazards. Recycling batteries has become so important because it helps saves resources and prevents environmental pollution.
The Recycling Process
Batteries contain a range of metals which can be reused as a secondary raw material. There are well-established methods for the recycling of most batteries containing lead, nickel-cadmium, nickel hydride and mercury. For some, such as newer nickel-hydride and lithium systems, recycling is still in the early stages.
There are a number of different recycling processes for batteries, which are aimed at recovering a variety of materials:
- Lead can be recovered by either separating the different materials that make up the battery (lead, plastics, acid, etc.) prior to metallurgical processing. Alternatively, batteries can be processed as a whole through heat treatment in a particular type of furnace with metals being recovered at the end of his process.
- NiCd batteries can be reprocessed through a similar thermal technique, which recovers cadmium and iron-nickel for steel production.
- Batteries containing mercury (button cells) are most commonly processed using a vacuum-thermal treatment, in which the mercury vaporizes. It condenses and eventually solidifies when temperatures are reduced and can then be reintroduced into the material cycle.
- NiMH batteries are reprocessed by mechanically separating the individual materials (plastic, hydrogen and nickel) within a vacuum chamber to prevent the escape of hydrogen. The output of this process is a product with high nickel content which can be used in the manufacture of stainless steel.
- Li-Ion batteries are currently reprocessed through pyrolysis (heat treatment) with the primary recovery the metal content.
- Zinc-carbon/air and alkaline-manganese batteries can be reprocessed using a number of different methods, which include smelting and other thermal-metallurgical processes to recover the metal content (particularly zinc).
State and Federal Regulations in the United States
The Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act was passed in 1996 by the U.S. Congress which requires regulated batteries such as Ni-CD batteries and sealed lead-acid batteries to:
1. be easily removable from consumer products to make it easier to recover them for recycling
2. include in the label the battery chemistry, the "three chasing arrows" symbol, and a phrase that instructs users to properly recycle or dispose the battery
3. provide national uniformity in collection, storage, and transport
4. phase out the use of certain mercury-containing batteries
What if you don't where a local recycle center is? Call2Recycle helps promote environmentally responsible communities, businesses, and retailers through its free battery and cell phone recycling program. (After you Sign up, They will pay for the shipping and recycling costs.)
Call2Recycle's retail partners provide easy access for customers to drop off their used batteries and cell phones for recycling. Participating retailers may include (in the U.S.): AT&T, Best Buy, Black & Decker, DeWalt, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Milwaukee Electric Tool, Office Depot, Orchard Supply Hardware, Porter-Cable Service Centers, RadioShack, Remington Product Company, Sears, Staples, Target, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless.