Battery recycling is one of the most successful recycling programs in the world. An estimated 98 percent of car batteries are recycled, despite the fact that bar batteries are heavy, clunky things that tend to leak dangerous sulfuric acid. How did battery recycling become so successful?
An Assault on Batteries
To understand battery recycling, it helps to understand what's inside batteries and how they work. Batteries contain a heavy metal -- usually lead, mercury, cadmium or nickel -- that reacts with an electrolyte to produce electricity.
It's the heavy metals that make batteries so dangerous in the environment; lead poisoning, for example, can result when lead leaches into drinking water or food supplies. And once heavy metals are in the environment, they're notoriously difficult to get rid of. Incinerating heavy metals isn't a good idea, since they usually release dangerous compounds into the air when they're burned.
As a result, many state and national governments now have laws that make battery recycling mandatory. The good news is that heavy metals like lead -- which is the primary component in a car's lead-acid battery -- are easily recycled into new batteries or other lead products. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of the components in a brand-new battery are created from recycled lead and plastics.
A battery recycler will typically crush the battery into small pieces, then separate the lead from the plastic and the acid solution. The lead is melted down and sent to manufacturers, while the plastic pieces are also reused by a facility that uses recycled plastics. The acid solution is neutralized (usually with an alkaline compound), tested for safety, and then dumped into a public sewer system.
How to Recycle Batteries
First of all, DO NOT throw an old car battery into the trash, or store them on your property for any length of time. Automobile lead-acid batteries are highly toxic and contain a sulfuric acid electrolyte that can produce flammable and toxic gases that might explode. And when handling any car battery -- new or used -- be sure to wear gloves and use common-sense safety precautions.
Most retailers that sell new car batteries are required to accept your old battery for recycling, though they may charge a small fee of a few dollars. Additionally, some auto parts stores, repair shops or metal recyclers will accept old batteries. Some may even provide you with a dollar or two as a trade-in credit.
If you're stuck for a place that will accept your battery for recycling, check out the excellent listings on Earth911.com for more information on where to recycle batteries.