Everything You Need To Know About Battery Recycling

Battery recycling is not as top of mind as post-consumer paper, aluminum, and plastic. Batteries can be found in every room in the house; they are used in electrical and electronic items, toys, remote controls, alarm clocks, smoke detectors, and of course, mobile devices. But battery recycling just doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Each year, literally hundreds of thousands of batteries, and their harmful components, are being dumped in landfill rather than being properly disposed of and recycled. Recently, Environment Canada reported that only 5% of primary consumer batteries in Ontario were being recycled.

Most spent batteries languish in cluttered kitchen drawers, or boxes marked old batteries until they are tossed in the garbage. More than a third of Ontarians (35%) say they typically dispose of batteries by throwing them in the garbage, or they include them in their blue box, where batteries aren’t accepted. And, even those who normally do the right thing occasionally toss out a battery. One in three (33%) admit they’ve thrown out a battery in the garbage in the past year.

There are many different types of batteries, most of  which can contain toxic, often highly dangerous chemicals including, lead, cadmium, zinc, lithium and even mercury. When batteries begin to break down (think of that old flashlight with the oozing battery gunk), the chemicals may leach into the ground reacting to rainwater that seeps into the landfill forming a toxic soup, called leachate, that can get into the ground water contaminating the supply. Recycling batteries is an easy way to help keep heavy metals out of the landfill and protect our environment.

How to Recycle Batteries: Very Carefully.

There are three basic types of batteries: the wet-cell battery, the dry-cell non-rechargeable, and the dry-cell rechargeable.

The wet-cell contains lead acid and is used to power your car, boat, or ride ‘em lawn tractor.

The dry-cell non-rechargeable battery is the kind you use around the house and rummage through drawers looking for when the remote stops working. This variety of battery can be further classified into the following types:

  • Zinc Carbon – generally used in less power-consuming gadgets like watches, shavers, clocks, and radios.
  • Zinc Chloride – also used in less power-consuming gadgets.
  • Alkaline Manganese – used in mp3 players. This variety is slightly more leak-proof when compared to the above two and also has a longer life.
  • Primary Button Cells – can be further categorized into (i) Mercuric Oxide, used for small applications like pacemakers and hearing aid, (ii) Zinc Air, as an alternative to mercuric oxide, (iii) Lithium, used in cameras and watches and (iv) Silver Oxide, used in electronic applications like watches, calculators, toys etc.

The dry-cell rechargeable battery, also commonly used in the home can be further classified as:

  • NiCd or Nickel Cadmium – used mainly in powering laptops, cordless and cell phones, and some varieties of toys.
  • NiMH or Nickel Metal Hydride – variety of batteries which are less harmful to the environment and have a longer life.
  • Li-Ion or Lithium Ion – batteries with a larger energy storage capacity when compared to the above two batteries.

The main advantage of using rechargeable batteries is that they are rechargeable – you don’t need as many batteries, so there are fewer batteries to dispose of. Safe disposal is critical though, as 80% of rechargeable batteries contain nickel cadmium, which is a carcinogen.

All batteries must be sorted by chemistry to prepare them for recycling. The goal of battery recycling is to recover the various component materials (e.g. heavy metals, plastic) from the disposed batteries for reuse.

  1. The battery is first separated into its components: plastic, acid, heavy metal. Batteries are often crushed by high speed hammers or shredders.
  2. The battery acids or other liquid electrolytes are drained off and neutralized to become water, or processed into compounds such as carbonates.
  3. The remaining parts of the crushed batteries are then passed through suitable liquids that allow the various components (e.g. plastic, metal) to be separated based on their density.

The chemical composition of batteries is what contributes to high levels of toxicity in the environment. Chemicals like cadmium are harmful to humans, as well as other animal and plant life. In the landfills, heavy metals that leak from the dead batteries can mix with ground soil and cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem thereby affecting plant and animal life. At the incinerators, the burnt batteries release toxic gases containing the heavy metals.

Why Recyling Batteries is Important.

Recycling batteries is important for a number of reasons. Let’s do the math.

Battery Recycling Fact number 1: Environment.
When improperly disposed of, batteries can leak heavy harmful metals, such as nickel, cadmium and lithium which contaminate our local soils, groundwater, and streams. If incinerated, batteries release toxic gases containing heavy metals into the atmosphere.

Battery Recycling Fact number 2: Health.
Harmful toxins can be ingested by wildlife, which may eventually make their way up the food chain and into the human body which can cause severe health problems! 80% of rechargeable batteries contain nickel cadmium, which is a carcinogen.

Battery Recycling Fact number 3: We love Tech.
Technology has increased our reliance on batteries. Last year approximately 3 billion batteries were sold in North America. As our love of and reliance on tech grows, so will our battery usage.

Battery Recycling Fact number 4: We can do better.
Far too many batteries are trashed every year. Canadians throw away over 745 million batteries a year. Only 5% of batteries in Ontario are properly recycled.

Battery Recycling Fact number 5: Useful materials.
Batteries are non-biodegradable, and toxic to our environment. However, all batteries are recyclable, and much of the material can be used to make new products.

We can all agree on the importance of recycling essential products like batteries. check out our service at GarbageDay where we help you with home reminders.

Where to Recycle Batteries

81% of consumers agreed that they would recycle batteries if it was more convenient. In 2011 Stewardship Ontario launched The Battery Incentive Program and it has grown to include over 2,700 collection sites across Ontario, making it easier and more convenient for Ontarians to recycle their used single-use dry cell batteries.

Many municipalities offer a menu of options for recycling batteries, ranging from Community Recycling Centres, Battery Recycling Barrels located in libraries community centres, and local retailers, to curbside pick up; you just put your used batteries in a handy Zip-lock battery recycling bag and place it on top of your blue box.

Here is an example from the Region of Peel outlining how and where to recycle batteries:

How to Sort Your Waste

Batteries (Single Use)

This item is household hazardous waste.
This item has options for disposal.

Option 1: Peel Community Recycling Centre (CRC)

  • Residents may take single-use A, AA, AAA, C, D, 9 volt and button cell batteries to a Peel CRC for safe disposal.
  • Peel CRCs also accept rechargeable batteries.
  • Businesses are required to sign up for the Business Hazardous Waste Program before dropping off batteries at a Peel CRC at a pre-scheduled time.

Option 2: Battery recycling barrels

  • Drop single-use batteries into battery recycling barrels at participating libraries, community centres, municipal facilities and retailers throughout Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

Option 3: Orange Drop retailers

  • Take batteries to a local participating Orange Drop retailer.

Option 4: Battery Collection Period (for curbside collection only)

  • Your used batteries will be collected on your recycling collection day during battery collection periods, which takes place twice a year in the Spring and Fall. Check for specific dates in April and October.
  • During battery collection periods, gather your used, single-use A, AA, AAA, C, D, 9-volt and button cell batteries for curbside collection.
  • Put your used batteries in a transparent, sealable bag. On your battery pickup day, place the filled bag on top of your closed organics cart.
  • If you don’t have an organics cart, place your filled battery bag beside your recycling bags.

For residents living in multi-residential apartment/condominium buildings:

  • Use options 1, 2 or 3.
  • Check with your building’s property management to find out if your building participates in battery collection service through the Region of Peel. If so, use the designated battery collection containers available at your building for safe disposal of acceptable batteries.

Want to know exactly when the recycling truck comes to your neighborhood? Let us help ​end the guesswork today​

Battery Recycling: Key Takeaways

  • The reduction in waste sent to landfills – in this case, toxic waste
  • Conservation of natural resources, such as metals and minerals
  • Reduces pollution by reducing the need to collect new, raw materials
  • Saves energy in manufacturing
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change
  • Helps sustain the environment for future generations
  • Helps create new, well-paying jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries
  • Recovered materials can be reused in making new products

Keeping heavy metals out of landfill is reason enough to think differently about recycling batteries. But the benefits of recycling batteries go much further. By reusing materials that would otherwise be discarded, we promote the circular material management model that will help to sustain our economy and environment for generations to come.

Let GarbageDay help end the guesswork today!