Don’t drop those batteries in the trash. There are just too many of them. We must do better than that. Discover your options on this single-use battery recycling guide.
According to the EPA, Americans throw away more than three billion batteries every year and almost half of them are single-use alkaline batteries.
If you think that’s nothing to worry about, think again.
Placed end to end, those batteries would circle the world at least six times.
Apart from the fact that they're a non-degradable waste, single-use batteries contain recyclable metals as well as harmful chemicals that may leak into the environment.
Now, I’ll explain why recycling single-use batteries is an important part of sustainable living and caring for the planet.
Yes, single-use batteries are recyclable. Batteries contain reactive chemicals and metals that generate electrical energy. Recycling these chemicals helps protect the environment.
Single-use batteries are available as AAs, which are the most popular type around, AAAs, 9-volt, C, and D batteries. The CR123A are less common but pack a lot of power for their size. Finally, the metallic CR2032 or button-cell batteries that we use in watches and small devices are also recyclable.
Single-use alkaline batteries are considered non-hazardous and you can throw them in the trash in most locations.
Still, single-use batteries are non-degradable waste and contain zinc and manganese that can be recovered.
So it’s always better to recycle them than let them break apart and pollute the soil and water resources.
The metals and chemicals used in single-use alkaline batteries are not so toxic and corrosive as in rechargeable batteries, but they are chemicals nonetheless and have no place in our landfills.
Since they contain few valuable elements, most places don't accept single-use alkaline batteries for recycling.
At least not for free!
The way it works is that you purchase a mail-order recycling kit that has pre-paid shipping and recycling costs already calculated in the price.
You put your batteries in the box or bucket and follow the instructions.
When the container is full you take it to your nearest FedEx and that’s it. The recycler will make sure that your batteries are recycled or disposed of in an environmentally safe way.
Those of you who are wondering about recycling car batteries, you should know that most cars use lead-acid batteries. However, modern electric cars typically use lithium ion batteries.
First, let’s take a look at the most popular single-use battery types we use in our households.
The larger the battery the more capacity it has to store energy. Even if both the slim AAA and the hefty D-cell are rated at 1.5V, the big one stores more energy which means longer battery life.
These are by far the most popular battery size. They’re used in a variety of appliances and gadgets, and you can buy them almost anywhere.
You can find them in kitchen scales, wall clocks, electric shavers, etc. AA batteries are rated at 1.5 V and are a good choice for devices that (a) need a bit higher current draw but are not in constant use or (b) devices that are always in use but need minimal energy.
When you think of a standard single-use battery, you think of “double As”.
You can find them in small devices that don’t draw much power, such as remotes, thermometers, bathroom scales, and calculators.
Like their bigger cousins, they also rate at 1.5V but generate less energy due to their smaller size.
You can find them in devices such as LED penlights, laser pointers, computer styluses, hearing aids, or glucose meters.
As you can guess these are not so common as the previous two options — AA and AAA.
Because of their high capacity, they are perfect for devices that are frequently in use, such as flush sensors, soap dispensers, and air freshener systems.
Think of them as the big-boy batteries!
These include infrared thermometers, battery-powered alarms, and scales.
They are highly resistant to extreme temperatures, which makes them suitable for a range of kitchen and refrigerating equipment.
About ⅔ the size of an AA battery, these batteries generate 3V which allows them to generate plenty of power while retaining their compact size.
Thanks to its large power-to-size ratio, this battery will last longer than most.
Rated at 3V, CR2032 batteries are used in watches and various medical devices. In other words, wherever slim size and zero weight are needed for reliable, long-lasting power.
You can probably find them inside of your quartz watches.
Economical, easy to dispose of, and extremely popular. With a capacity rating of over 2,500 mAh, they are good for moderate to heavy-use devices. They can come in almost every standard size.
Lithium chemistry gives these batteries the highest energy density of any other single-use battery cell. They can last up to 4x longer than alkaline of the same size. Lithium batteries function well in extreme temperatures, which makes them ideal for outdoor devices.
It's crucial that you recycle lithium batteries.
These batteries are extremely inexpensive and have very low energy density. Many no-name battery brands use this technology. Slowly getting phased out by alkaline and lithium batteries.
Most commonly used in wristwatches and small gadgets. They contain real silver and are often available as button cells.
These batteries generate electrical power through exposure to oxygen. This makes them a bad fit for watches, but perfect for hearing aids. They pack high energy density for a small size.
Let’s now take a look at some of the ways to recycle single-use batteries. These often depend on the battery type as some batteries are easy to recycle locally while others are recyclable through national programs. In the same way, some recycling options are free while others require a small fee.
Ask around your local municipality, waste hauler, or local solid waste office to see if they accept single-use batteries for recycling. Maybe they only collect them during household hazardous waste collection days.
Local hardware stores may also collect single-use batteries for recycling but not all of them are free.
Depending on your local or state laws, you may be allowed to put the batteries in your curbside bin.
California is currently the only state in which it’s illegal to throw any type of battery, including single-use, in the trash. Many other states don’t allow the disposal of rechargeable batteries in the trash.
But, just if something is allowed, it doesn’t mean it's the best for the environment.
Batteries are made of steel, which can be recycled, and contain chemicals you wouldn’t want to find in your drinking water.
Yes, most communities allow you to safely put alkaline and zinc carbon batteries in your household trash.
However, EPA recommends that you send used alkaline and zinc carbon batteries to battery recyclers.
So check your city website or contact your local waste management company to ask where you can drop off single-use household batteries.
You can usually recycle standard alkaline batteries at Batteries + Bulb stores. This store chain usually charges a small fee which can vary from location to location. These stores are franchise-operated and may have different recycling offerings. You best call your local store for more info.
Button cell batteries are often used in valuable items such as watches, car fobs, or hearing aids. Jewelry stores, car dealerships, and audiologists often have recycling programs where you can drop off those batteries.
If you have a large number of used household batteries to recycle, you can try mail-in recycling services such as:
Big Green Box has a 3-step battery recycling program – buy it, fill it, ship it. You need to purchase the Big Green Box at a low flat rate (from $63 up).
It will arrive at your home or office address fully assembled. Place it in a high-traffic spot and your employees can drop used batteries inside. Once the box is full, you can use the plastic bags inside to separate individual items.
The only thing you need to do now is drop off the box at your local FedEx. Big Green Box guarantees that the batteries will end up at an EPA-certified recycling facility.
Cirba Solutions lets you drop off standard household batteries of size D and smaller for free at any of the company’s drop-off locations. For larger quantities, Cirba Solutions recommends using their iRecycle kit. You can purchase recycling kits of different sizes.
Each of these buckets comes with pre-paid shipping, and pre-paid recycling and guarantees safe handling, packaging, and transportation of used batteries.
Terra Cycle has come to an ingenious idea to sell so-called Zero Waste Boxes of different kinds – each for a specific type of waste. For example, you can order the Alkaline Only Battery Bucket which holds up to 10 lbs of batteries. The tape for covering battery terminals is included, as well as the pre-paid return shipping label.
Call2Recycle has different single-use battery recycling programs for consumers and businesses.
Consumers can ship their batteries in special pre-paid recycling kits or drop them at one of Call2Recycle’s drop-off locations.
Businesses can use a handy calculator on the Call2Recycle website where based on the location and the number of batteries, they get what it would cost to send their batteries for recycling.
Although you’re allowed to drop them with household trash in most locations, recycling is the only right and environmentally safe way to dispose of single-use batteries.
As a consumer, you should look up the nearest drop-off location that accepts single-use alkaline batteries free of charge. As mentioned, your municipality may offer those locations during hazardous household waste removal days, or you can ask at local hardware stores.
The problem is that not all recyclers accept single-use batteries. Big box stores, for example, take only rechargeable batteries.
And even if you find a recycler in your area, not all of them have great websites with all the info you need.
In most cases, you’re down to time-consuming phone calls and email inquiries to find out if they really accept single-use batteries.
GreenCitizen has developed the Green Directory — a one-stop service for finding local recyclers.
Using the Green Directory is a piece of cake:
And there you get a list of recyclers or drop-off locations that accept single-use alkaline batteries in your area. These may be hardware stores, public buildings with recycling receptacles, or specialized recyclers.
Mail-in battery recycling services will send you a special recycling kit, which includes a safety box, plastic bags, and electricians tape, altogether with instructions on how to store your batteries.
However, if you’re taking the batteries to a drop-off location, you need to prepare them yourself.
Turn off your device and remove the battery. If the battery has leaked any of its electrolyte fluid, you need to treat it with more care. Clean the inside of your device because this liquid can be corrosive and damage electrical contacts. The other problem is that the recycler may not accept batteries that leak.
Check with the business if they accept damaged batteries.
Sore batteries so that their active ends aren’t in contact with each other.
There are two ways to do this:
Keep in mind never to leave spent batteries in a location where they can overheat or freeze as extreme temperatures can damage them.
If you need to recycle single-use lithium batteries, you need to place each battery in a separate plastic bag or tape both ends of their terminal with electrical tape.
Lithium batteries may spark and cause a fire if damaged or the terminal ends touch.
Never put button-cell or any kind of single-use lithium batteries in the trash or municipal recycling bins.
No, Home Depot does not recycle single-use batteries. You can’t mail single-use batteries to Home Depot or use their affiliate Call2Recycle bins at their Locations. Use the Green Directory to find the nearest recycler that accepts single-use batteries.
No, Best Buy does not recycle single-use batteries. They only accept and recycle rechargeable batteries. Use the Green Directory to find the nearest recycling service that accepts single-use batteries.
No, Staples does not recycle single-use batteries. They only accept rechargeable batteries. Ask in your local hardware store or use the Green Directory to find the nearest single-use battery recyclers.
Yes, lithium batteries can be recycled. Tape their terminal ends with electrical tape and place each one in a separate bag. Never dump them with household trash as they can cause fire when damaged. Use the Green Directory to find the nearest recyclers that accept lithium batteries.
Yes, electric car batteries are recyclable. When you buy a new battery, the store will often accept the old one and even cut you a discount. If you’re not buying the new car battery, they may even give you some cash for it. You should never put lead-acid car batteries in the trash or municipal recycling bin.
Single-use means non-rechargeable. It means you can only use them while their charge lasts. When they lose charge, you should mail them for recycling or take them to the nearest recycling center that accepts single-use batteries.
No modern battery is 100% recyclable. Depending on the type and chemistry, recyclers are able to recover a portion of the metals while the non-metallic remains are burned. Lithium-ion batteries have the highest recovery rate of almost 96%.
Yes, disposing of lithium batteries is bad for the environment because they contain toxic elements and can start landfill fires. Recycling lithium batteries is done less to retrieve valuable materials, than for environmental reasons.
Yes, it’s worth recycling lithium batteries. Lithium is a toxic metal that reacts violently when exposed to moisture and poses a threat to the environment. However, recycling lithium is an expensive and complicated procedure that can take 6 to 10 mines more energy than to mine and refine new lithium.
Single-use batteries are by far the most common battery type in daily use. However, many locations treat used batteries as non-toxic waste that you can throw in the trash.
But if something’s not illegal it doesn't mean it’s the best thing to do.
From the environmental point of view, single-use batteries are non-organic waste that takes hundreds of years to decompose, and yet we throw away billions of them every year.
What is more, they contain zinc, manganese, and steel that can be recovered.
The change starts with you.
Find the nearest single-use battery recycling site and ask about their mail-in or drop-off programs.