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New life for dead batteries: Recycling rechargeable batteries is easy, free, good for the environment--and required by state law.

Whether in smartphones, tablets, laptops or cordless power tools, batteries are all around us. The convenience of powering portable devices for work, entertainment and safety is a major factor behind the incredible growth in production and use of batteries. And we continue to use batteries in more traditional applications like flashlights and smoke detectors as well.

When talking about batteries used most commonly in home applications, there are two types: disposable (also known as single-use) and rechargeable. When single-use alkaline batteries lose their charge, they cannot be used again. In contrast, rechargeable batteries are designed for long-term use, and can be recharged within a device (e.g., think of a smartphone) or the battery can be removed from the device and plugged into a wall socket or charging station to repower (think of a power tool).

Lead-acid batteries used in cars, trucks and boats are the original rechargeable batteries--as anyone who ever had to jumpstart their car on a frigid winter morning knows, they can be brought back to life even after they are "dead."

Although we enjoy the convenience of battery-charged portable devices, their growing use has significantly increased the number of batteries being discarded at the end of their useful life.

Potential Impacts

Unlike most single-use alkaline batteries, rechargeable batteries contain harmful metals, such as lead, mercury, nickel and cadmium. When discarded in a landfill, these metals have the potential to permeate into the soil, groundwater and surface water. If batteries are incinerated, toxins may be released into the air.

While discarding a small battery would not appear to pose a major environmental risk, when you consider that an estimated three billion batteries are discarded in the U.S. each year-equivalent to about 186,000 tons-- it's clear that discarding batteries in the trash could cause significant environmental harm or affect public health.

Battery Disposal

Since rechargeable batteries contain chemicals that are considered potentially hazardous, New York and other states have enacted laws making it illegal to dispose of them in the regular trash. Under New York State law, battery manufacturers must collect rechargeable batteries at no cost to consumers. The batteries can be dropped off at any retail store that sells that type of battery or a similar type.

The collected batteries are shipped to firms specializing in battery recycling, and are sorted by their chemical makeup. Reusable materials are recovered and converted into byproducts used in the manufacture of stainless steel alloy, cement additives and new batteries. Materials that can't be reused are safely disposed of to prevent harmful environmental impacts.

Be a Responsible Consumer

Here are a few tips on how you can reduce your environmental impact when it comes to batteries. If your rechargeable batteries begin to lose power, first try to recharge and reuse them. If they won't recharge, follow these simple steps to recycle them:

1. Return the used batteries to a local battery retailer, who must accept all rechargeable batteries it sells, and similar battery types, for recycling at no cost to the consumer.

2. If you can't find a local retailer, visit www.caU2recycle. org/ and search for a local rechargeable battery recycling site. Some municipalities have collection programs.

3. Follow the recycling instructions provided with the rechargeable battery.

4. Return lead-acid batteries, e.g., car batteries, to a lead-acid battery retailer, distributor or recycling facility.

That's all you need to do. Remember, recycling rechargeable batteries is not only an investment in a clean and healthy environment, it's the law.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the difference between single-use and rechargeable batteries?

A. Single-use batteries, also known as disposable batteries, have one charge. Once they lose that charge, they can't be used again. In contrast, rechargeable batteries are designed for repeated use and can be recharged many times--some can be charged as many as 1,000 times. Rechargeable batteries may contain hazardous materials like lead, cadmium and nickel.

Q. Can I toss rechargeable batteries in with other household trash?

A. No. Under New York State law, it is illegal to treat rechargeable batteries like other solid waste; they must be recycled. Rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste, so it is important to keep them from entering a landfill and potentially harming the environment.

Q. What types of rechargeable batteries must be recycled? How do I recycle them?

A. Battery manufacturers are required to accept returns of common rechargeable batteries, including those made of nickel-cadmium, sealed lead, lithium ion, nickel metal hydride, or any dry cell battery or battery pack capable of being recharged and weighing less than 25 pounds. Batteries can also be returned to retail outlets that sell rechargeable batteries. Retailers must accept up to 10 used rechargeable batteries per person, per day, or as many batteries as the consumer purchases from that retailer.

Q. What about car and truck batteries?

A. Cars, trucks and recreational vehicles like boats commonly use lead-acid batteries. Under state law, consumers must recycle lead-acid batteries of six or more volts that are used as a vehicle's power or ignition source. These batteries can be returned to any retailer that sells new lead-acid batteries. Distributors and retailers must accept up to two batteries from an individual per month.

Q. Do I need to recycle single-use, alkaline batteries?

A. Not at this time.

Q. Are there penalties if a consumer puts rechargeable batteries in the trash, rather than returning them to be recycled?

A. It is illegal to knowingly dispose of rechargeable batteries as solid waste in New York State. Violators may face civil penalties ranging from $50-$200.

For more information, visit DEC's website and search for "rechargeable battery recycling."

Peter Constantakes is an associate public information specialist with the Conservationist. Vimal Minocha is an environmental engineer with DEC's Stewardship and Waste Reduction Program.

Caption: Rechargeable batteries are clearly marked to be recycled when they no longer can be repowered.

Caption: Retail outlets that sell batteries, and a number of municipalities, have convenient collection bins where consumers can drop off rechargeable batteries for recycling.
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Author:Constantakes, Peter; Minocha, Vimal
Publication:New York State Conservationist
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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