What Happens to Recycled Batteries?
By John Dillon, VP Marketing Superfy, 15 March 2023
Imagine this: you’ve just completed a significant overhaul of your business processes to meet your EPR goals. You’ve switched to recycled paper, energy-efficient lightbulbs, you are composting your food waste and recycling plastics and paper waste in your business. But one piece of the puzzle is still missing: recycling your batteries.
Sure, you could bundle them all up and haul them down to the local recycling centre, but what if there was an easier way? With Superfy, you can automate your battery recycling effort using our innovative technology. To better understand why this is important and how we can help, we’ll look at what happens to recycled batteries and answer some frequently asked questions.
The Need to Recycle Batteries Explained!
Why go through the trouble of recycling batteries in the first place?
Recycling batteries is imperative because they contain toxic materials such as lead and cadmium that can harm the environment and wildlife – if not disposed of properly. By recycling batteries, we can reduce the amount of such toxic materials in landfills and prevent soil and groundwater contamination.
Additionally, recycling batteries conserves natural resources, as manufacturers can use the materials from recycled batteries in new batteries.
So, the next time you have old batteries, make sure to recycle them properly. Not only will you be doing your part to protect the environment, but you’ll also be helping to conserve natural resources and keep toxic materials out of landfills.
We have seen this first-hand, having helped Ecobatt reduce operational costs for recycling 1,000 tonnes of batteries (covered in more detail below)!
What Happens When Batteries Reach a Recycling Facility?
When batteries reach a recycling facility, they undergo a series of steps to extract the valuable materials and safely dispose of the hazardous waste.
So, if you’ve pondered the question, “how are batteries recycled?” here are the steps for your information:
- Sorting: The first step in the battery recycling process is to classify the batteries by type and chemistry. This is important because different types of batteries require different recycling methods.
- Shredding: The sorted batteries are then shredded into smaller pieces. This makes it easier to separate the different components of the battery, such as lead, nickel, and cadmium.
- Smelting: The shredded battery pieces are melted in a smelting furnace. This allows valuable metals, such as lead and copper, to be separated from plastic and other materials.
- Purification: The metals from the smelting process are then purified to remove any impurities. This results in high-quality metals used to make new batteries and other products.
- Disposal of Hazardous Waste: The materials left after the metals have been purified, such as the acid and other toxic substances, are safely disposed of, following local, state, and federal regulations.
- Reuse of Valuable Materials: The pure metals are then sold to manufacturers to produce new batteries and other products. We’ll talk more about this in the next section.
This applies to all types of battery recycling. So, if you’ve even thought of the question, “what happens to batteries when they are recycled?” this should have answered your question for you.
What Happens to Recycled Batteries’ Components?
- All batteries: Iron obtained is employed in producing new materials and machinery for use in ship manufacturing, bridge building, building, etc.
- Lead-acid batteries: Lead-acid batteries, commonly found in cars, can be recycled by crushing them to recover metal, sulphuric acid, and plastic. The recovered lead is typically used in the production of new batteries.
- Nickel-cadmium batteries: Nickel-cadmium batteries are commonly used in various applications, such as portable electronic devices and power tools. The cadmium obtained after processing at elevated temperatures in thermal vacuum vaporisation units is essential in producing new nickel-cadmium batteries.
- Alkaline/zinc-carbon batteries: Most commonly used in low-drain devices such as remote controls and flashlights, alkaline/zinc-carbron batteries make up the majority of recycled batteries. How are alkaline batteries recycled? Recycling begins with shredding the batteries to separate plastics, metal, and paper from the black mass core. Next, the batteries undergo processing in a rotary kiln to transform magnesium oxide content into zinc oxide, which can be used as an additive in producing various products, including ceramics and plastics.
- Lithium batteries: Lithium batteries are commonly used in electronic devices and electric vehicles. These batteries are recycled by extracting copper, cobalt, and nickel from thermal vacuum vaporisation units that operate at high temperatures. The recovered precious metals are then utilised in the manufacturing of new batteries as well as other metal-based products.
- Nickel-metal hydride batteries: Nickel-metal hydride batteries are typically used to power various electronic devices, including laptops, digital cameras, and power tools. When these batteries are no longer in use, you can recycle them by subjecting them to high temperatures in thermal vacuum vaporisation units. This process allows for the recovery of steel, which can be used to produce various metal products, such as stainless steel utensils and water pipes. By recycling nickel-metal hydride batteries in this way, we can reduce waste and conserve natural resources.
- Mercury cell batteries: Mercury cell batteries, commonly used in small electronic devices, undergo a recycling process that involves heating them to high temperatures to evaporate and condense the mercury content. The resulting materials, including mercury and steel, can be repurposed for various applications. For example, mercury can be used to produce new batteries, thermometers, dental amalgams, and other products.
How Do You Recycle Batteries Correctly?
- Sort the batteries: Batteries come in different types and chemistries, including alkaline, lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, and lithium-ion. It’s essential to sort these batteries separately, as each type requires a different recycling process.
- Find a recycling centre: Many communities have local recycling centres that accept batteries. You can also check with retailers selling batteries, as they may have a recycling program. For example, the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) provides recycling information for commercial businesses and households. Alternatively, if you’re in the US, you could look for a recycling centre near you by using the Earth911 Recycling Search platform.
- Prepare the batteries for recycling: This involves removing any extra tape or cardboard around the batteries, as these could introduce contamination during the recycling process. Additionally, it’s recommended to put tape just over the ends of batteries to prevent any toxic materials from leaking.
- Recycle the batteries: Batteries can be recycled by breaking them down into their core components, such as lead, acid, nickel, and cadmium. These components are then melted down and used to make new batteries and other products.
What Options Exist in Battery Recycling?
- Collection Programs: Many retailers, manufacturers, and community organisations offer battery collection programs. For example, household hazardous waste collection includes batteries. These programs allow individuals to drop off their used batteries for proper recycling. Some programs even offer incentives, such as discounts on new batteries, for participating in the recycling program.
- Mail-In Programs: For this option, you simply package your used batteries and send them to the recycling facility, where they will be appropriately processed.
- Specialised Recycling Facilities: These facilities are equipped to recycle all types of batteries. They have the necessary equipment and processes to recycle batteries safely and extract valuable materials.
- Closed-Loop Recycling: Some companies have developed closed-loop recycling programs in which the materials from used batteries are used to make new batteries. This process helps to conserve resources and reduce waste.
- Exporting for Recycling: In the UK and across Europe, for example, used batteries can be exported to other countries for recycling. While this approach can provide access to specialised recycling facilities, it raises concerns about properly handling hazardous waste and treating workers in the receiving countries.
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and your best choice will depend on your specific needs and circumstances. Nonetheless, participating in any of these battery recycling programs can help conserve resources, reduce waste, and protect the environment.
How Has Superfy Contributed to Battery Recycling?
In this case study, we see how Superfy helped Ecobatt, a subsidiary of Ecocycle, to achieve its sustainability and business goals through technology.
Using Superfy’s smart tools and innovations, Ecobatt has been able to monitor its 4,000+ nationwide battery collection cabinets, making over 14,000 collections (equivalent to 1,000 tonnes of batteries) for recycling and saving over 156,000 kg of CO2 emissions.
The technology provides driver routing, cabinet monitoring, and visual data tracking to maximise the company’s efforts towards sustainability.
Ecobatt is an accredited collector and recycler for B-cycle, Australia’s innovative battery stewardship scheme, and is a major collector for this scheme.
Other Environmental Considerations to Take Into Account When Recycling Batteries
Recycling batteries isn’t just about ensuring that hazardous materials are disposed of responsibly. Even when recycled properly, there are still broader environmental considerations. The fact that the disposal of batteries can release harmful gases into the atmosphere, contributing to air pollution and negative impacts on health and the environment, is one such consideration.
Another pain point is that batteries can release toxic substances into water sources, harming aquatic life and intoxicating the water supply. So, it’s important to take preventive measures to prevent these from happening.
Superfy supports recycling and collection companies in gathering information about their collections and materials. In many cases, this involves using technology to track and monitor operational use and waste recycling levels. Our innovative platform integrates seamlessly into existing workflows between employees, customers, and service providers to enhance operational performance, reduce CO2 emissions, and meet your reporting requirements.
This means not only can you ensure that any used or expired batteries are disposed of safely and responsibly, but you can also optimise the usage of new batteries across operations to reduce your environmental impact as much as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do batteries get recycled?
Yes, batteries definitely get recycled.
Recycling batteries is possible because of a process called “hydrometallurgical extraction.” This process extracts metals, such as lithium, cobalt and lead, from the cells of used batteries. The extracted metals are recovered and reused in the production of new batteries.
The process of hydrometallurgical extraction is more efficient than traditional landfill disposal. According to the EPA, recycling 1,000,000 laptops saves enough energy to power 3,500 homes for an entire year! Not only that, but there’s also an opportunity to recover 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium from every million cell phones recycled.
However, recycling your used single-use batteries isn’t as straightforward as you may think. You can’t just throw them into the general or recycling bins — you need to put them in a designated battery recycling container in your area.
Superfy offers solutions that help streamline battery collection and recycling for a sustainable future. We work with governance bodies, recycling and processing organisations to ensure that everything is taken care of with respect to the tracking and monitoring of waste data from collection and processing to the disposing of hazardous materials safely and securely — all you have to do is get in touch with us today and request a demo.
What percentage of batteries are recycled?
The percentage of recycled batteries varies by country and type of battery. However, globally, the recycling rate of batteries is still relatively low.
According to a report by CleanTechnica, the global recycling rate for lead-acid batteries, commonly used in vehicles, is estimated to be around 99%. This is a relatively high figure compared to other types of batteries.
For other types of batteries, such as nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride, the recycling rate is lower, estimated to be around 50–60%.
The recycling rate for lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in electronics, is even lower, estimated at around 5%.
There’s significant room for improvement in battery recycling rates. In fact, organisations are working to increase public awareness about the importance of battery recycling and to make it easier for individuals to recycle their batteries.
By recycling batteries, we can conserve resources, reduce waste, and prevent the release of toxic materials into the environment. By increasing the recycling rate, we can, in turn, positively impact the environment and help create a more sustainable future.
Can lithium batteries be fully recycled?
Yes, you can fully recycle lithium batteries.
In recycling, valuable materials, such as cobalt, nickel, and lithium, can be recovered and used to produce new batteries or other products. That begs the question: how are lithium batteries recycled?
The recycling process for lithium batteries starts with collecting and sorting the used batteries. The batteries are then disassembled to remove the individual cells, which are subsequently processed to extract the valuable metals. The next stage involves purifying the metals and using them to produce new batteries or other products.
While lithium battery recycling is technically possible, the recycling rate for these batteries is still relatively low, at a meagre 5%. This is partly due to the lack of recycling infrastructure and the high cost of the recycling process. However, as demand for lithium-ion batteries continues to grow, the recycling industry is expected to expand, making it easier and more economically viable to recycle these batteries.
Does recycling batteries cause pollution?
Recycling batteries does not cause more pollution than discarding them.
Rather, recycling batteries helps to minimise the release of heavy metals and other hazardous materials into the environment. The process also prevents these hazardous materials from reaching water sources, such as groundwater.
With that being said, you may wonder, where do recycled batteries go? Or even, what happens to car batteries when they are recycled?
Recycling batteries can reduce the energy needed to produce new ones since recycled substances like lead and cobalt can be reused in manufacturing new batteries. Plus, when done correctly with technological aid provided by Superfy, recycling batteries becomes safer for citizens and the environment.
To find out how Superfy can help you streamline your business operations for a sustainable future, request a demo from our team today. Our innovative resource management solutions could save your company time and money while helping you meet your environmental reporting requirements.
What effect does increased electric vehicle adoption have on the battery recycling industry?
Electric vehicles (EVs) are expected to grow significantly over the next ten years. Several projections indicate that EV sales will continue to increase as more automakers produce electric market models. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the number of EVs on the road globally is expected to reach 145 million by 2030, up from 10 million in 2020.
However, what impact does this have on the battery recycling sector?
As more EVs are sold and enter the market, the number of batteries needing to be recycled will also increase. Currently, most EV batteries are made from lithium-ion technology, which contains valuable metals and materials that can be reused or repurposed. Recycling these batteries is essential for several reasons, including reducing waste, conserving natural resources, and ensuring a sustainable supply of critical materials.
To attain our sustainability goals, we must implement effective recycling programs to manage the increasing number of EV batteries that will need to be recycled.
To achieve these sustainability goals, the government and the private industry must work together to develop effective battery recycling programs. These programs should include measures to collect and sort used batteries, processes to recover valuable materials, and standards for the safe disposal of hazardous waste. Additionally, there’s a need for research and development aimed at finding innovative ways to repurpose and reuse materials from EV batteries.
Do rechargeable batteries also need recycling?
Yes, rechargeable batteries also need to be recycled once they have worn out their use. This includes your typical AAA and AA batteries found around the house, button cells from watches, rechargeable phone, power tool and even electric vehicle (EV) batteries. Interestingly, you can recycle EV batteries at renewable energy plants!
Wrapping It Up!
It’s evident that recycling batteries is pivotal to sustainability and keeping a green environment, and Superfy is here to provide the best options for businesses to make that happen. With the Superfy platform, waste recyclers and recycling collectors can seamlessly integrate recycling into their workflows to reduce their environmental impact. So, if you’re interested in optimising your operations and expanding your business seamlessly, you should get started with Superfy by requesting a demo.