Last Updated on April 25, 2023 by Ecologica Life
In the 21st century, the modern world is dependent on batteries. From our phones, laptops, to even children’s toys. Batteries support essential services such as hospitals and trains when mains electricity is down. In this article we will break down why it is important to recycle batteries and how they are recycled.
Table of Contents
How Do Batteries Work?
Batteries work by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. When the anode and cathode of a battery are connected in a circuit, the chemical reactions inside the battery create an electrical current. These reactions are caused by the movement of electrons between the positive and negative electrodes of the battery.
Why Should We Recycle Batteries?
Batteries contain chemicals such as cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel and lithium which can be toxic to humans and wildlife if not disposed of properly.
When batteries are not recycled, i.e., they are thrown into household trash, they end up at landfills. As the battery casing corrodes, chemicals seep into the water and soil and make their way into our water supply. If this water arrives in ponds or lakes, it can ruin whole ecosystems.
The lithium contained within batteries can cause fires in landfills that burn underground for years. These fires release toxic substances into the atmosphere, polluting further an already polluted air for humans and wildlife to breathe, nice!
Batteries and human health
- Cadmium and nickel are carcinogenic (cancer causing)
- Lead has been linked to birth defects and neurological and developmental damage
- Mercury is highly toxic in vapour form, and for this reason has been banned for use in batteries in many countries
Inside their casing these batteries impost no risk to human health, but when these chemicals leak into the environment, exposure to humans causes significant risks.
How are batteries recycled?
The type of battery will affect how it is recycled. Lead-acid type batteries are used in cars. These are broken apart, the sulphuric acid drained off, and then the lead and plastic are separated in a water bath. The acid is converted into industrial chemicals or water, while the lead and plastic are melted down to form new batteries.
Similar processes occur to extract and reuse the steel, manganese, zinc, and other components from alkaline batteries.
Lithium ion batteries (fast charging) are difficult to recycle because lithium is a highely reactive element. They are recycled by specilists who have recieved training in working with high voltage. They employ insulated tools to prevent electrocution or short-circuiting the pack.
Are Rechargable Batteries Worth It?
Rechargeable batteries are more environmentally friendly than their non-rechargeable cousins, as long as they are recharged many times before being thrown away. In some instances, such as for smoke detectors, it is more useful to use non-rechargeable batteries. Whichever you decide to use, the most important thing is that you dispose of them properly.
In 2019, 51% of portable batteries sold in the EU were recycled , out of 200,000 portable batteries that is over 100,000 batteries a year. This is a significant improvement from previous years but still needs much improvement!
How Can I Recycle My Batteries?
Within many parts of the world, such as Europe and North America recycling containers are available in supermarkets. Many stores that sell battery packs must offer a container to recycle them. If not then your local recycling centres should recycle batteries.
Depending on where you are in the world, there are even services that will come to your door and collect batteries for you. Your best bet is to search online where the closest recycling container is and what options are available to you.