Car Battery Recycling: Why It’s Important?

Recycling old batteries reduces waste, and since up to 99 percent of a lead-acid battery is recyclable, it also reduces the need to use new raw materials and components. Instead of keeping your old battery, be sure it gets recycled by leaving it with the counterperson when you purchase a replacement, or by dropping it off at any local battery retailer.

Automotive retailers will usually provide a credit for your used battery when you purchase a new one. Follow all safety precautions when handling your old battery.

Why Is Recycling Important?

Recycling is an important part of keeping our environment safe. By definition, recycling is the process of converting waste into reusable material. It decreases both the need for new materials and the environmental harm that comes from improperly disposed of materials.

Recycling Car Battery Process:

To begin the recycling process, used batteries are collected from drop-off locations and transported to recycling centers.

  • There, the lead is separated from the polypropylene (plastic case) and fed into a furnace to be melted down.
  • The lead is then reused to manufacture new batteries. The polypropylene is washed and also recycled.
  • Lastly, acid is treated and neutralized.
  • New automotive batteries are typically made with up to 80 percent recycled materials.
battery recycling

How Are Car Batteries Recycled?

Step 1: The plastic is broken down. When you recycle your car’s battery, it’s broken into its composite parts: plastic, lead, and electrolytes. Your battery’s plastic casing and cover get crushed and converted into plastic pellets. These pellets then get converted into new cases and covers, reducing the need for new plastic production. Without being processed, these plastics could take hundreds of years to decay.

Step 2: The lead is melted. The lead included in your battery’s grid, terminals, and posts get melted into lead ingots. These are used to form new battery grids, and retained lead oxide can be used in future batteries as well.

Step 3: The battery acid is neutralized & processed. The final recycled element, your battery’s electrolytes, is most important. Lead-acid batteries use sulfuric acid as their electrolyte conductor. Sulfuric acid is strong enough to burn through iron and can create toxic fumes if handled improperly.

This old battery acid can be neutralized in two ways. First, it can be neutralized with a basic (to counteract the acidic electrolyte) compound which transforms it into water. The water is then treated, clarified, and tested before being released into sewer systems.

The second way involves a more modern recycling process. The sulfuric acid is processed and converted into sodium sulfate, a substance that is used in laundry detergent, glass, and textile manufacturing. Instead of simply neutralizing it, this process turns the acid into something useful!

Recycling Batteries

Electric-drive vehicles are relatively new to the U.S. auto market, so only a small number of them have approached the end of their useful lives. As electric-drive vehicles become increasingly common, the battery-recycling market may expand.

Widespread battery recycling would keep hazardous materials from entering the waste stream, both at the end of a battery’s useful life and during its production. The material recovery from recycling would also reintroduce critical materials back into the supply chain and would increase the domestic sources for such materials.

Work is now underway to develop battery-recycling processes that minimize the life-cycle impacts of using lithium-ion and other kinds of batteries in vehicles. But not all recycling processes are the same and require different methods of separation for material recovery:

1. Smelting

Smelting processes recover basic elements or salts. These processes are operational now on a large scale and can accept multiple kinds of batteries, including lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride.

Smelting takes place at high temperatures where organic materials, including the electrolyte and carbon anodes, are burned as fuel or reductant. The valuable metals are recovered and sent to refining so that the product is suitable for any use.

The other materials, including lithium, are contained in the slag, which is now used as an additive in concrete.

2. Direct recovery

On the other extreme, some recycling processes directly recover battery-grade materials. Components are separated by a variety of physical and chemical processes, and all active materials and metals can be recovered. Direct recovery is a low-temperature process with minimal energy requirements.

3. Intermediate processes

The third type of process is between the two extremes. Such processes may accept multiple kinds of batteries, unlike direct recovery, but recover materials further along the production chain than smelting does.

Separating the different kinds of battery materials is often a stumbling block in recovering high-value materials. Therefore, battery design that considers disassembly and recycling is important in order for electric-drive vehicles to succeed from a sustainability standpoint. Standardizing batteries, materials, and cell design would also make recycling easier and more cost-effective.

Where to Recycle Batteries?

Recycling companies dispose of the components of rechargeable batteries responsibly and properly. The metals and chemicals don’t end up in streams and landfills. Here are some options for recycling:

  • Call2Recycle is a nonprofit battery recycling program. Rechargeable batteries can be dropped off in Call2Recycle bins at the store. Any rechargeable battery that weighs up to 11 pounds and is under 300 watt-hours is accepted. There’s no charge for recycling. 
  • Many local solid waste districts host collection events for residents to drop off batteries. 
  • Some battery manufacturers and recycling facilities have mail-in programs. Before mailing batteries, be sure to follow postal shipping precautions.
  • Most auto care retailers accept car batteries for recycling. 

Common types of recyclable batteries:

  • Lithium-Ion (L-Ion) battery: These batteries are often used in personal electronics such as smartphones. They also run laptop computers, tablets, and cordless power tools.
  • Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd) Batteries: These rechargeable cells are used in power tools and communication devices. They’re for devices that require high current draw but aren’t in constant use.
  • Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) battery: These rechargeable batteries come in AA, AAA, 9 volt, and D cells. They’re used in digital cameras and other devices that drain the power quickly.
  • Small Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) Battery: These rechargeable batteries are often used in large items like motor vehicles and lawn mowers. They also power medical devices and telecommunications.

Practice the proper disposal of used batteries. Knowing how to correctly discard household and rechargeable batteries helps the environment.