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Though batteries are the essential components that power everyday devices big and small, you’d be forgiven for considering them far less important once they’re out of juice. But old, dead batteries can be recycled into other products—including new rechargeable batteries—and you shouldn’t throw them away or store them indefinitely in a shoebox in the closet. In some places, it’s even illegal to dispose of certain batteries the wrong way.
Improperly discarded batteries are pretty much doomed to end up in landfills, where their only function is to pollute the planet and potentially give people cancer. Car batteries, for example, are made of lead acid, which can seep poison into the ground and water supply. Leaving spent batteries in an electronic device is worse: they can leak toxic chemicals like nickel, mercury, and cadmium and cause the device to malfunction or break.
Fortunately, there are free and easy ways to recycle and otherwise dispose of batteries, whether they’re single-use, rechargeable, or automotive.
Where to recycle batteries, and how much it costs
You can recycle rechargeable batteries for free at select recycling centers and drop-off locations around the U.S., including some battery retailers, pharmacies, big box stores, hardware stores, and organic grocers.
CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens will let you recycle rechargeable batteries at no cost. You can also take your rechargeable batteries to retailers such as Best Buy, Lowe’s, and Home Depot for recycling, even if you didn’t originally buy your batteries where you’re dropping them off.
It’s also possible to recycle lead-acid car batteries at select retailers and metal recycling facilities around the country. If you need to recycle a car battery and are also a current member of a big box store such as Costco or Sam’s Club, you can take it there to recycle. These stores don’t recycle the batteries themselves; instead, they send the used batteries back to the battery manufacturers for that.
Big box stores account for a significant amount of auto battery recycling, which helps offset the amount that they sell and put into the driving ecosystem. Costco, for example, reports recycling 68.6 million pounds of auto batteries in 2021.
If you don’t have a store membership, consider AutoZone, which will issue an in-store gift card in exchange for spent car batteries.
Single-use battery recycling
To find a battery recycling location, looking up your area code using Call2Recycle is a good place to start. The nonprofit shows battery and cellphone recycling near you. If you can’t find a convenient location that accepts batteries, Call2Recycle also offers a service where you can ship them used batteries, though their boxed shipping kits do cost money.
Recycling single-use household batteries, like a coin battery, is a little more challenging. The reason is that “there is currently no national stewardship solution to allow for free recycling of single-use batteries, except in Vermont,” the nonprofit says. This means that local household hazardous waste and municipal programs that do offer alkaline battery recycling programs could charge a small fee.
What kind of products are made from recycled batteries?
According to Care2Recycle, recycled single-use lithium primary batteries, as well as recycled rechargeable batteries made of nickel or lithium, can be used to make items such as golf clubs and silverware. Recycled alkaline batteries, meanwhile, provide materials to make road asphalt aggregate and even sunscreen. Rechargeable batteries are also often made from recycled single-use and rechargeable batteries. Recent studies have shown that batteries made with recycled lithium-ion batteries can be just as energy-efficient as their predecessor, which could be promising for the future.
How do I dispose of used batteries?
Though the Environmental Protection Agency says single-use alkaline and zinc carbon batteries can safely go in the trash in most U.S. communities, the agency generally recommends finding a recycling center that will accept your used batteries. Because improper battery disposal can be illegal, the EPA also offers guidance for people who want to dispose of used batteries and aren’t sure about applicable federal and state battery laws. If a recycling center isn’t available, your area may have a household hazardous waste collection point that will accept single-use batteries.
The temptation to just throw your dead batteries into a box and forget about them is strong, but that’s not a safe collection to start in your house or office. It’s not likely, but used batteries can catch fire, so it’s best not to risk it. Some of the materials inside batteries, like nickel and cadmium, are notoriously toxic carcinogens, and they can leak out of the casing. You don’t want all that in the house either. If any battery leakage comes into contact with electronics or even fabrics, it can irreparably damage them. You could, for example, discover that your flashlight, which you want to work in a power outage, doesn’t function because an old battery has leaked inside of it.
Should I just start using rechargeable batteries instead of single-use batteries?
You may encounter situations where purchasing a charged, ready-to-use single-use battery instead of a rechargeable battery (which doesn’t always come pre-charged) can seem like the best choice for the money at that particular moment. One such scenario may find you dashing into an airport shop to buy some batteries to power up a device for a flight. In general, though, if you purchase rechargeable batteries instead of single-use ones, you won’t have to think about recycling batteries often, maybe even at all. You can save significant money and time in the long run by going this route and purchasing rechargeable batteries.
If you’re looking for a place to start, the best rechargeable batteries can last for years on average. They can cost more than single-use batteries, but rechargeable batteries are a sound and economical selection for the average consumer over time. Some brands of rechargeable batteries, such as the Energizer Recharge Universal AA Batteries, are even made from recycled batteries—meta!—which makes using them an additional relative win for the environment. And if you’re looking to just buy fewer batteries in general, there are ways to convert any AAA ones you might have into AA in a pinch.