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How do I dispose of batteries?

Proper battery disposal is not a straight-forward process by any means. We can start by determining disposal options by recognizable characteristics according to the chart below. Some properties are based on size, others on chemistries that are commonly marked on batteries. In the near future, we hope to provide selection and identification guidance, more information about our management methods, and a frequently asked questions page. 

What does the asterisk* mean here? 

The asterisk on this table denotes that there is some variability in the disposal considerations of a certain battery chemistry or type. This can mean potential mercury content, variations based on manufacturer, material, or age, and other considerations. These are explained in the narrative description of each type, and more information is available by contacting EHLS. Landfilling is often the least expensive method of management up front, however EHLS recommends recycling whenever practicable for all battery types. Please investigate all options fully and feel free to contact EHLS for more information. 

Battery disposal by recognizable characteristics
Chemistry EHLS-Managed Third-party Solid Waste Additional Info
Alkaline* Billed recycle or landfill Recycle Landfill* See Alkaline Batteries below
NiMH Scrap metal recycling Recycle
NiCd Dry-cell Scrap metal recycling Recycle
NiCd Wet-cell Scrap metal recycling Recycle
ZnAir Billed recycle or landfill Recycle* Landfill* See Zinc Air Batteries below
Li Primary Universal Waste Recycle
LiPoly Scrap metal recycling Recycle
LiIon Scrap metal recycling Recycle
Sealed lead-acid Scrap Recycle
Lead acid (VRLA or other non-sealed) Scrap Recycle
Button-cells* See Button-cell Batteries below
Others Contact EHLS

Alkaline Batteries

Alkaline batteries may contain mercury. Batteries manufactured in the US and EU after 2000 are generally safe for landfill disposal, however prior to this time some batteries being sold as alkaline incorporated added mercury or had sources of materials very high in mercury. In the US the Mercury and Rechargeable Battery Act of 1996 and the EU's Battery Directives have curbed this significantly. The elimination of added mercury has greatly reduced the negative environmental effects of disposal, however it is not without consequence. 

Alkaline batteries still contain corrosive chemicals as well as metals that can negatively disrupt carefully controlled landfill chemistries. EHLS recommends recycling of alkaline batteries through reputable vendors, or the selection of recyclable rechargeable batteries whenever practicable. Currently, in Texas wastes are classified on their condition at disposal and batteries (as an article) have a protective coating on them that contains the metals and solution that would by themselves pose more of a hazard. In tests, many brands of batteries are able to withstand the test of time in a simulated landfill environment, but these do not account for any damage or rough handling that could occur on the way to the landfill. 

These tests are brand-specific and do vary based on the materials that a particular brand, batch, or product-line may use. Conditions such as rough handling, leaks, or punctures into the skin of the battery or any corrosion that austere environments may have caused prior to disposal are not taken into account in this testing. For these reasons EHLS recommends disposal through a reputable recycler. If you or your department is interested in recycling your alkaline batteries, or already recycles them, please contact EHLS so that we can share information. 

Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries

NiMH batteries are detrimental to the environment when disposed of through landfills, dangerous when incineratred, and contain metals with a high recovery value. EHLS manages NiMH batteries as scrap metal for this reason. They are recycled by some of the largest battery producers without additional cost to the University. These are normally encountered in both consumer and industrial applications and come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and voltages. 

Nickel Cadmium Batteries

NiCd or "NiCad" (a trademark referring to a specific brand) batteries come in wet and dry cell variations. Consumer batteries are generally dry cell, and industrial batteries can be wet "vented" or dry cells. These are recycled as scrap metal by EHLS to insure that the toxic and valuable metals involved are recovered. 

Zinc-Air Batteries

Zinc air batteries can contain mercury, and those that do must be disposed of properly. Zinc air button cells are commonly manufactured in mercury-free designs and can be purchased in such configurations by consumers. Many industrial applications may or may not contain mercury depending on the application. Button cells are the most common consumer variant, however they come in virtually unlimited shapes and sizes for industrial and transportation applications. 

Specific to mercury-containing zinc air batteries, EHLS offers a recycling option billable to an existing waste cost center and they are handled as Universal Waste Batteries. Recycling is a billable option for non-mercury-containing cells as well.

Specific to marine applications including navigation and emergency beacons, users may be required to recycle or use specific disposal options. See Coast Guard Commandant Instruction for more information when operating watercraft or performing operations in US waters. 

Lithium Primary Batteries

Non-rechargeable lithium batteries were once found almost entirely in industrial and military applications, but these chemistries have seen a recent rise in consumer applications as well for higher output applications such as digital cameras. Many brands have product disposal information sheets that yield specific information about a battery chemistry and size of a specific brand and the required environmental testing information to dispose of it properly. These batteries may be disposable by landfill, however EHLS recommends recycling whenever possible. EHLS does offer a billable recycling option to departments, however it is strongly suggested to contact EHLS for more information on disposal of these batteries and selection of alternative batteries if possible due to their high cost of disposal. 

Industrial and non-consumer-cell types are almost never disposable in a landfill and require proper handling and care to prevent hazardous reactions. Follow all manufacturer instructions on the use and care of these batteries. EHLS currenlty handles these as Universal Waste Batteries. 

Lithium Ion and Lithium Polymer Batteries

LiON, LiIon, LiPoly, and LiPo all refer to lithium ion batteries in their current use. LiPoly could refer to a lithium battery with a polymer electrolyte, but at this time (2015) they are not yet of commerial significance. Lithium batteries can react dangerously when overheated or under other conditions and should be managed per the manufacturer's instructions. EHLS recycles these batteries as Universal Waste Batteries to prevent their disposal through landfilling. 

Sealed Lead Acid, Vented Lead Acid, and other Lead-acid chemistries

Lead acid batteries require proper handling and storage, but contain valuable (and hazardous) lead. Lead recycling is almost ubiquitous for vehicle batteries, but other types of lead-acid batteries such as sealed lead acid batteries and valve-regulated lead acid batteries can also be recycled. EHLS currently manages lead-acid batteries as scrap metal due to their high value. Currently more lead is released from lead mining than landfilling of batteries according to the Toxics Release Inventory, so recycling of this metal goes a long way. The spent sulfuric acid is generally used by the recycler in a process to generate virgin sulfuric acid as well. 

Button-cell Batteries

Button-cell batteries by chemistry
EHLS Third Party Solid waste
Alkaline* Billed reycle or landfill Recycle Landfill
Silver* Billed recycle or incineration Recycle Not allowed except for batteries of certain sizes and manufacturing specifications
Zinc-air* Billed recycle or landfill Recycle Landfill
Lithium Billed recycle Recycle Landfill
Carbon monofluoride Billed recycle Recycle Landfill
Copper oxide Billed recycle Recycle Landfill
Mercuric oxide Billed recycle or incineration Recycle

Button cell battery chemistries follow the same rules as above, except for: 

Carbon monofluoride batteries are a type of primary lithium chemistry battery, and can be managed as such. 

Copper oxide batteries are a type of primary lithium chemistry battery and can be managed as such. 

Mercuric oxide batteries were at one point fairly common, but have mostly disappeared except in special circumstances. The mercury inside them can be recycled, and EHLS manages them as Universal Waste Batteries for recycling.