Collecting and Storing Waste Batteries: Best Practices
Posted: September 28th, 2022Authors: Michelle C. Heather B.
Batteries are an essential part of many businesses; in the mid and late 1990’s the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Universal Waste standards, which provided an avenue to recycle many types of these batteries to divert from landfill. However, there was never clear guidance established on how to properly collect and store these hazardous wastes destined for recycling.
EPA recently released a request for information on the development of best practices for the collection of batteries to be recycled and voluntary battery labeling guidelines. This article reviews information provided by Call2Recycle, Inc.’s proposed best practices.
Some of the challenges faced in battery recycling are lack of understanding of different battery types, how to find batteries in battery containing equipment for proper disposal, and improper storage or disposal leading to battery fires.
The main battery types used by consumers are alkaline (non-rechargeable); Nickel Metal Hydride, Nickel Cadmium, and Nickel Zinc (rechargeable); Lithium and Lithium ion; and Lead acid batteries.
These different battery types make it more difficult for the average consumer to determine what type of battery they have and how to handle them. Most states do not have provisions around recycling non-rechargeable batteries, which can lead to confusion around what batteries can be thrown away and in some cases mismanagement of batteries that should be recycled. The proposed solution for this would be to standardize the labeling of all batteries to clearly mark what type of battery it is and implement education campaigns to inform the public of how to dispose of each type of battery.
The challenge with battery containing equipment is how to know what type of battery is in the equipment and where to send it at the end of its useful life. From hair trimmers to wireless headphones, our everyday lives contain many types of batteries that will eventually start to deteriorate, and we will want to get a new device. Where do we throw out the old one? For most people, it just goes into the trash – we aren’t sure where it goes. These items may contain a residual charge and if the battery is compromised, it can cause a fire. By partnering with the manufacturers, guidance and avenues for disposal can be provided to ensure these batteries inside of products are responsibly managed and recycled.
A crucial part of making battery recycling a success is education and training of the public and handlers of batteries. Once the basic understanding of battery types has been established, proper storage can begin, with determining the correct container for the consumer and the correct exterior labels for identification and shipment. However, not all batteries can be neatly packaged into a preordered box or drum for disposal.
Damaged batteries are also a concern because they cannot be stored or transported in the same way as regular, non-damaged batteries. The proposed safe handling practices for damaged or defective batteries is to place the battery in a plastic bag, place the battery or device in a non-flammable material and contact a local battery recycler for available options.
With society shifting towards more renewable energy options, electric vehicle (EV) batteries – and other high-energy batteries – are becoming a greater concern with proper handling and disposal. These batteries are more complex than AA or rechargeable batteries and dismantling these batteries for recycling comes with greater risks. Increased training, specialized tools, additional labeling, and other safe practices are proposed to minimize risk when handling these types of batteries.
With cooperation between different regulatory bodies, manufacturers, and consumers, the battery recycling framework can be strengthened, and we can create a more sustainable and safer renewable energy-focused society. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) believes up to 40% of the critical materials in batteries will be supplied from recycled batteries in the future.