Batteries and End of Life
- 1. Batteries cannot be thrown away in the United States.
This depends on the type of battery and where you live. Alkaline-manganese batteries, like AAs, can be thrown in the trash in all states except California.1 However, retailers and municipalities often collect
alkaline batteries.2 The only state that requires the collection of alkaline batteries is Vermont, where a 2014 law requires that battery manufacturers and retailers finance alkaline battery collection programs.
Lithium-ion batteries, generally used in electronics such as cell phones, laptops or electric cars, are usually disposed alongside the products they are used in. Many of these batteries become a part of the growing stream of electronic waste. In all states
and many countries, it is illegal to throw away lead-acid batteries.3
- 2. Batteries are not recyclable.
This also depends on the type of battery. Lead-acid batteries, for instance, are highly recyclable. The vast majority of lead-acid batteries are recycled, which is environmentally beneficial and keeps lead, which is a neurotoxin, out of
the waste stream. But other types of batteries, such as disposable alkaline or rechargeable lithium batteries, are not as easy to recycle. In some cases, the environmental costs of recycling batteries may actually outweigh the benefits of
- 3. Batteries are the most highly recycled product in the United States.
When people think of recycling, they often think of newspapers or aluminum cans. But the most highly recycled product in the United States is the lead-acid battery. Since 2007, nearly 99% of used lead-acid batteries in the United States
have been recycled.4 But this is not true of most other types of batteries. For instance, only 3% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled.5 In Europe, where alkaline battery
collection and recycling policies have been in place since 2006, most countries have achieved alkaline-manganese collection rates of 25%.6
Batteries and Energy
- 4. Batteries are a source of clean energy.
Although batteries generate no emissions when in use, the processes of manufacturing, recharging, recycling, and disposing of batteries are resource and energy intensive. For instance, it takes approximately 100 times more energy to manufacture
an alkaline battery than it can deliver during its lifetime.7 Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, while less resource intensive if recharged many times, often depend upon materials, such as cobalt and graphite,
which are rare or resource intensive to produce. And rechargeable batteries, no matter what the type, are only as clean as the electricity used to recharge them.
- 5. Electricity from an alkaline battery is more polluting than a coal-fired power plant.
Life-cycle analyses estimate that the energy delivered from an alkaline battery is approximately thirty times more polluting, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, as the same amount of energy delivered directly from a coal-fired power plant.
The high level of pollution is a product of the high levels of processing necessary to mine and refine the materials needed to manufacture disposable batteries.
- 6. Battery-powered electric cars are just as polluting as a car that runs on gas.
In general, electric cars have the potential to be much cleaner than gas-powered vehicles. But how much cleaner depends on how and where they are charged. For instance, charging up an electric car with electricity from a coal-fired power
plant yields few environmental benefits. However, if an electric car is charged with electricity from cleaner sources of electricity, such as hydroelectricity, natural gas, or renewables, they are much cleaner than gas-powered vehicles.
- 7. Dead batteries can have an afterlife.
In the case of disposable alkaline-manganese batteries, this is true. Even after an alkaline battery in a children's toy or camera dies, it often contains sufficient voltage to power less demanding devices like remote controls or clocks. For
example, a battery that seems to be dead in a camera can continue to power a wall clock or a remote control for several years.9
- 8. Alkaline-manganese batteries can be recharged.
There are rechargeable versions of AA, AAA, and other types of alkaline batteries on the market, but unless they are labelled as such, alkaline-manganese batteries are generally single use and cannot be recharged.10 An irreversible reaction occurs inside the battery as it discharges. In fact, trying to recharge a single-use battery can be dangerous.
New Battery Technologies
- 9. Phone batteries should be fully depleted before they are recharged.
This used to be true, but it no longer is. Older rechargeable battery technologies, such as NiCads, suffered from what is called the "memory" effect. If the battery was charged before it was fully depleted, it could lose capacity.11 Batteries used in most cell phones today are much more tolerant.12
- 10. Newer batteries technologies are prone to catching fire.
Flaming lithium-ion batteries always draw media attention because there have been instances where cell phones, laptops, cars, and even airplanes have had lithium-based batteries catch fire. Such incidents are often the result of manufacturing
defects or over heating. Care must also be taken when transporting lithium-ion batteries. Overall, however, lithium-ion batteries have proven relatively safe, especially considering their ubiquity in consumer devices.13 But as the use of lithium-ion batteries scales up, especially for use in vehicles and planes, their safety will continue to be scrutinized.
- 11. Newer battery types will replace old battery types.
In recent years, the uses of lithium-ion batteries have expanded rapidly. They are now used in place of older types of rechargeable batteries in cellphones, laptops, and hybrid and electric cars. Lithium ion batteries, however, are not likely
to replace all types of batteries. For instance, lead-acid batteries will continue to be used in cars as starter batteries because they are reliable, relatively inexpensive, and a proven technology. Even new electric cars, like the Tesla
and Nissan LEAF, use lead-acid batteries to power lighting and other systems.14 For many less-demanding products, such as remote controls and disposable consumer devices, less expensive alkaline manganese
batteries are likely to continue to be used.
- "Recycling Laws Map | Call2Recycle | United States." Accessed June 21, 2015. http://www.call2recycle.org/recycling-law-map/.
- "Faqs | Call2Recycle | United States." Accessed July 8, 2015. http://www.call2recycle.org/faqs/.
- "Frequently Asked Questions for Lead-Acid Battery Recycling." New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Accessed June 8, 2015. http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/86198.html.
- Wilburn, D.R. "Scientific Investigations Report." Scientific Investigations Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey, 2014.
- "BU-705a: Battery Recycling as a Business." Battery University. Accessed June 9, 2015. http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/battery_recycling_as_a_business.
- 2006 European Union Directive on Batteries and Accumulators. 2006/66/EC. Accessed June 17, 2015. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:32006L0066.
- Turner, James Morton, and Leah Nugent. "Charging up Battery Recycling Policies: Extended Producer Responsibility for Single-Use Batteries in the European Union, Canada, and the United States." Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2015.
- Holland, Stephen P., Erin T. Mansur, Nicholas Z. Muller, and Andrew J. Yates. "Environmental Benefits from Driving Electric Vehicles?" Working Paper. National Bureau of Economic Research, June 2015. http://www.nber.org/papers/w21291.
- "BU-106: Advantages of Primary Batteries." Battery University, October 13, 2010. http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/sharing_battery_knowledge.
- "Case Study: Battery Types." Chemwiki.ucdavis.edu. Accessed July 8, 2015. http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/Analytical_Chemistry/Electrochemistry/Voltaic_Cells/Case_Study%3A_Battery_Types.
- "Memory: Myth or Fact?" Battery University. Accessed July 22, 2015. http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/memory_myth_or_fact.
- "6 Phone-Charging Myths, Corrected." Business Review USA. Accessed July 7, 2015. http://www.businessreviewusa.com/technology/4801/6-Phone-Charging-Myths-Corrected.
- Ross, P.E. "Boeing's Battery Blues [News]." IEEE Spectrum 50, no. 3 (March 2013): 11-12. doi:10.1109/MSPEC.2013.6471040.
- "Advancements in Lead Acid." Battery University. Accessed June 8, 2015. http://batteryuniversity.com/learn/article/advancements_in_lead_acid.