Can You Recycle Batteries?

Understanding the positives and negatives of battery recycling.

Do you ever feel a pang of guilt when tossing batteries in the trash? If so, you’re not alone.

Of all the things we recycle, batteries feel like they should be a no-brainer. But why do some batteries have recycling bins set up specifically for them, while others are destined for the landfill? Let’s get some answers.

Can You Recycle Batteries?

Yes, you can absolutely recycle batteries. And some batteries must be recycled. But the process varies, depending on the battery type and what’s available in your area.

Battery type

We’re not talking about size — AA, AAA or D — but rather the chemicals inside. Don’t worry; we’re not going to make you sit through a chemistry class refresher. All you need to know is, different types of batteries have different ingredients.

Lithium-ion batteries contain lithium, alkaline batteries contain alkaline, and so on. The type of battery determines where you can recycle it, since not all locations accept all types of batteries.

Local recycling programs

Unfortunately, there’s no single source listing all recycling centers and programs. You’ll need to do some research to see if there’s an appropriate recycling program near you.

Start with your local municipality’s website, where you’ll find any applicable regulations and information about your recycling program. There are also options for those without recycling locations nearby. We’ll talk about those below.

Why Should You Recycle Batteries?

If you’re thinking this sounds like more work than it’s worth, here are three great reasons to recycle batteries: environmental concerns, legal requirements and national security. (Yes, you read that last one right.)

Environmental concerns

Many batteries contain materials that pose a genuine risk if they aren’t disposed of properly. A car battery contains acid and lead, things you definitely don’t want in your landfill. Other batteries may house heavy metals, or potentially cause fires in recycling plants or landfills.

Legal requirements

The most common regulations ban putting rechargeable batteries in the trash. These laws aren’t driven by environmental concerns as much as safety issues.

You’ve probably heard stories of damaged cell phone or scooter batteries exploding. I’ve personally seen a damaged laptop battery quadruple in size overnight, warping and breaking the keyboard. Combine that explosive potential with the intense heat and pockets of gas that can occur in landfills, and it’s easy to see why officials don’t want rechargeable batteries in the trash.

We should note, however, you don’t need to worry about your single-use alkaline batteries exploding. Even when damaged, they don’t pose the same risk. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends recycling alkaline batteries, they also note it’s safe to put them in the trash. That covers every state except California, where all batteries must be recycled.

National pride

Some battery materials are not only useful but essential to the national interest. In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior called lithium one of 35 mineral commodities considered “critical to the economic and national security of the United States.”

Notably, 2018 was also the year China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology launched an initiative requiring the recycling of electric vehicle lithium batteries. Essentially, the U.S. and China want to recoup the lithium entering their borders, hedging against future shortages or price hikes.

So recycling lithium batteries isn’t just good for the planet. It’s good for your country.

How To Recycle Batteries

OK, so we’ve established it’s possible to recycle batteries, and it’s definitely a good idea. But how does all that play out in practice?

Unless your local program says otherwise, do not simply drop your batteries in the recycling bin! Recyclers process only paper and plastic, so unexpected materials like batteries can damage equipment.

Recycling centers

Though there’s no one online clearinghouse, check resources like Earth911 and Call2Recycle for suggested recycling centers near you. Both sites include retail locations to recycle batteries or other materials.

Retail stores

Lithium-ion batteries are the most common choice for cordless power tools. As a result, stores like Lowe’s or The Home Depot usually provide battery recycling bins at the entrance or near the customer service desk. Simply drop your old batteries off and you’re good to go.

Batteries Plus also takes spent batteries. They often accept rechargeable batteries for free but may charge a fee for dropping off alkaline batteries. Policies vary by location, so check with them before bringing anything in.

Finally, auto parts stores typically accept car batteries. Many offer a gift card when you recycle your car battery through them.

Mail-in boxes

If you don’t have any local recycling options, check for mail-in programs. You’ll pay for these services, but you don’t need to leave the house and can store the batteries until you’re ready to return them.

A typical example is Call2Recycle’s Battery and Cellphone Recycling Kit. For $55, you’ll receive a postage paid box you can load with up to 25 pounds of batteries and cell phones.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.