“If you want grown-ups to recycle, just tell their kids the importance of recycling, and they’ll be all over it.”
Bill Nye, Educator
What Is Battery Recycling?
Battery recycling can be defined as the process to recycle batteries instead of disposing them into the garbage after just a single use. The aim is to reduce the overall number of battery trash that is produced every year on a global scale since battery garbage can lead to various forms of contamination, including water and soil pollution.
In this article, the importance of battery recycling for our environment is outlined. Moreover, many ways how you can recycle batteries in your daily life are given.
Battery Recycling by Country on a Global Scale
There are huge differences around the world regarding the efforts and efficiency of battery recycling. For instance, in 2012, Switzerland had by far the highest returning percentage of batteries with 73% of all batteries returned for recycling, followed by Belgium with 63% and Sweden with 60%.
In comparison, Canada had a quite low percentage of batteries that have been returned for recycling purposes with only 5.6%. The percentage of batteries recycled in the United States is quite controversial, since studies are often conducted by private companies, which could bias the results in a certain way.
However, overall, it seems that Europe is the leading player when it comes to recycling batteries compared to the rest of the world.
Why is Battery Recycling important?
- Reduction of soil pollution
- Mitigation of water pollution
- Groundwater protection
- Fight natural resource depletion
- Suitable treatment of toxic chemicals
- Reduction in overall waste production
- Fight global warming
- Reduction in environmental dumping
Reduction of soil pollution
Batteries that are disposed of into common solid municipal waste may cause significant soil pollution. Since this kind of waste often ends up in landfills, harmful chemicals and heavy metals can leak from batteries and enter the soil.
This may have significant adverse environmental effects, since these substances can contaminate the soil and may also hurt a variety of animals and plants.
Thus, battery recycling is crucial in order to mitigate soil pollution and the related adverse effects.
Mitigation of water pollution
If the battery trash ends up in landfills located near rivers or lakes, chances are that these water bodies are also contaminated, since part of the harmful components of batteries may enter the nearby environment and pollute the water.
Moreover, through illegal dumping, batteries may also just be disposed of into nearby rivers or lakes, since it may be regarded as the easiest short-term solution by industries.
In turn, many water animals and plants may suffer or may even die off, depending on the level of pollution. In order to protect our water bodies, it is crucial that the recycling rate of batteries is increased.
Battery trash can also lead to serious contamination of our groundwater with harmful chemicals and heavy metals if it is not disposed of properly.
For instance, when landfills are not set up in a proper manner, harmful substances may enter the soil, which can be washed into our groundwater over time.
Therefore, it is crucial to improve waste management regarding batteries but also to take efforts to reduce battery waste in order to avoid the contamination of our groundwater.
Fight natural resource depletion
The production of batteries implies the use of many precious natural resources. Since the number of batteries that are produced each year is quite high on a global scale, large amounts of resources have to be used in the production process.
If those batteries are disposed into the normal household waste, a large fraction of this waste may not be recycled and precious resources may be lost due to that. Thus, it is crucial to improve our battery recycling efforts in order to fight the resource depletion issue.
Suitable treatment of toxic chemicals
Many components of batteries are quite toxic to our environment. Among others, batteries are usually composed of many sorts of heavy metals, which are quite dangerous for a variety of animals, plants and also for us humans.
Therefore, battery trash has to be treated with great care, so that these harmful chemicals will not enter our environmental system.
Reduction in overall waste production
Our overall waste production leads to significant environmental problems. It contributes to all kinds of pollution and will eventually destroy our planet if we continue to produce excessive amounts of waste.
By recycling batteries, you can contribute to a reduction in household waste and therefore also improve your ecological footprint.
Fight global warming
Since in the production process of batteries, harmful greenhouse gases are emitted into our atmosphere, battery recycling is also an effective measure to fight global warming.
By recycling batteries instead of disposing them into the normal garbage, they can often be reused and the total amounts of batteries that have to be produced on a global scale would be lowered.
Reduction in environmental dumping
Part of the waste of rich Western countries eventually ends up in poor developing countries, since these countries often have quite lax regulations towards waste disposal.
Thus, it is tempting for Western countries and industries to get rid of their waste by simply shipping it to remote countries.
However, this implies several issues regarding environmental dumping in those waste-receiving countries. In order to mitigate those issues, it is crucial that we reduce the overall amount of battery trash.
Battery Recycling Process depending on the Battery Type
The recycling process of batteries heavily depends on the battery type and the chemicals that are contained in the respective batteries. In the following, the recycling process for the most common batteries is shown.
- Recycling of Lead-acid batteries
- Recycling of Alkaline batteries
- Recycling of Mercury batteries
- Recycling of Silver-oxide batteries
- Recycling of Lithium-ion batteries
Recycling of Lead-acid batteries
Lead-acid batteries are usually used in a variety of industries, including motorcycle batteries, car batteries, industrial fork-lift batteries and other batteries for commercial use. These batteries are recycled by grinding, neutralizing and finally by separating the polymers from the lead.
The end product from this recycling process can be used in a variety of industrial processes, including the production of new batteries.
However, it has to be assured that the recycled lead is treated with great care since it is quite toxic and can significantly pollute the environment.
The recycling fraction of lead-acid batteries is quite high since many shops are offering refundable deposits, which gives people an incentive to bring their battery waste back to the shop instead of dumping it into the household waste.
Recycling of Alkaline batteries
Alkaline batteries are usually recycled by dismantling them and to sort the resulting end products after some separation steps. The end products usually are composed of plastic, steel, paper, zinc or manganese, depending on the alkaline battery type that is recycled.
Recycling of Mercury batteries
Mercury batteries are or also have often been used for watches, transistor radios, hearing aids, calculators, cameras or also for industrial purposes.
The recycling process of mercury batteries has to be carried out with great care since the element mercury is quite toxic and mercury contaminations can even lead to death.
Through pyrometallurgical and hydrometallurgical processes, the mercury is isolated and can be reused for a variety of industrial processes after that.
Recycling of Silver-oxide batteries
Silver-oxide batteries are often used for medical devices or also for kids’ toys. However, those batteries usually contain some amount of mercury, which is a quite toxic material for our environment as well as for us humans.
Thus, it is crucial to recycle those batteries to avoid the contamination of our environment with mercury. In the recycling process, the silver is separated from the mercury and both components can be reused for several other industrial processes.
Recycling of Lithium-ion batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are often used in the electronic industry. These kinds of batteries often provide portable electricity for smartphones, tablets or also for laptops. Lithium ion batteries are made of many precious materials, including lithium, aluminum, copper, cobalt, nickel and also rare earth in some cases.
Thus, it is crucial to recover those materials by effective recycling in order to prevent shortage of those precious elements in the future. The following steps have to be taken in order to recycle lithium-ion batteries in an efficient manner.
First, the batteries have to be discharged or deactivated. Then, the battery systems have to be disassembled. In the next step, the batteries have to be crushed in order to be able to sort the different components.
With the help of electrolyte recovery, hydrometallurgical processes and pyrometallurgical processes, the precious components are sorted and gathered in the most efficient way so that they can be reused for different industrial processes.
The recycling process of lithium-ion batteries should be carried out with great care, since there are many dangers related to it. For instance, there are chemical as well as electrical dangers, which could lead to serious damage to human health.
Moreover, there can also be burning reactions if the recycling process is not carried out properly.
How to make the Battery Recycling Process more efficient?
Apart from the adverse environmental impact of disposing batteries in the household trash, it is also prohibited by law in many countries.
In the following, it is shown how you can recycle your batteries and make a positive environmental impact.
It is also shown how governments need to adjust laws to give people incentives to act more environmentally-friendly.
- Dispose of single-use batteries correctly
- Avoid buying single-use batteries
- Elimination of fees regarding waste disposal
- Prepare your used batteries for recycling
Dispose of single-use batteries correctly
In order to make efficient recycling of your single-use batteries possible, you should make sure to separate these batteries from your common household waste. You can often return your batteries at local stores where you initially bought them.
Moreover, in many areas, there are battery collection programs in place which you can join. You can also call your local waste district in order to get information on how to recycle your single-use batteries in the most efficient manner.
Avoid buying single-use batteries
By avoiding the purchase of single-use batteries, you can further improve your ecological footprint. Instead of buying single-use batteries, try to buy batteries for multiple use, often called rechargeable batteries. By doing so, you can save our natural resources and also slow down global warming.
Elimination of fees regarding waste disposal
In order to give people a proper incentive to recycle their batteries in an efficient manner, it is crucial to abandon any fees related to it. For instance, in some countries and states, there may even be a fee for returning old single-use batteries. However, it should be obvious that those fees are killing the incentive to return old batteries.
Therefore, in order to use our natural resources more efficiently and to prevent all sorts of pollution, governments around the world should introduce laws that abandon any fees from battery returning so that people have a bigger incentive to return their batteries, which can be recycled in later stages.
Prepare your used batteries for recycling
Apart from informing yourself about the most effective battery recycling practices in your local area, you should also try to prepare your batteries for recycling purposes.
Since some used batteries may still contain a certain amount of energy, you should avoid carrying many batteries in a single bag since they could react with each other.
Instead, try to return your batteries in low numbers per single bag or use non-conductive tape for the ends of the batteries to avoid reactions.
Also make sure to use a non-conductive carriage medium (plastic bags are usually a good way to go) for your batteries so that there are no electric sparks.
It is also crucial that people become aware of the importance of battery recycling. Many people still don’t realize that effective battery recycling is crucial to reduce several sorts of pollution and also to ensure our natural resource supply in the future.
Therefore, it is crucial to educate people and to raise awareness of this issue. This education should start early in school since school children are usually quite eager to learn.
These children may also convince their parents that it is important to recycle their batteries correctly.
The effective recycling of batteries is crucial in order to avoid several sorts of pollution and also to mitigate the resource depletion issue.
Everyone of us can make his or her contribution to make their battery recycling processes more efficient.
Moreover, governments around the world have to set a framework that gives people the incentive to recycle their batteries.
By taking these measures, battery recycling can play a crucial role in order to make our society more environmentally-friendly and to ensure a livable future for the next generations.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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