Household Hazardous Waste

What should I do with Batteries?battery.png

There are so many types of batteries that it can be confusing what to do with them!  There should be a statement on the battery to let you know its contents.  If the statement is in another language or the battery is damaged and you can't read it, just assume it's a hazardous waste.   The information below is intended to help you decide how to manage each type of battery.  You can also view our Question and Answer sheet on batteries.

Regular Alkaline Batteries - (AAA, AA, C, D, 9-Volt)

These very common batteries should go in the trash. The mercury in these batteries was removed in the mid-1990's. Note: The squat batteries used in cameras are usually lithium, not alkaline, and should go to a HHW collection.

Alkaline batteries used to be hazardous due to mercury content. Mercury, if released into the environment, can contaminate lakes and streams, the plants and animals who live there, and eventually people who eat the fish. In 1996, Congress enacted the "Battery Act," which among other things banned the use of mercury in these batteries. The State of NH beat them to the punch by enacting similar legislation in 1995 for batteries sold in NH. So what it comes down to is that batteries manufactured and sold before 1995 or 1996 probably have mercury in them and should be taken to a household hazardous waste (HHW) collection event. Those made after that can simply be tossed into the trash. One exception to the "new is safe" rule is foreign batteries--U.S. law has no bearing on what Japan or other nations might put in their batteries, so you may want to bring those to an HHW collection.

It's not a good idea to put these batteries in the trash when the trash goes to an incinerator, but there is often no recycling program for alkaline batteries.  Battery solutions offers a mail-in recycling program for alkaline batteries, but it will cost you money.

Rechargeable Batteries

Should be recycled through:
A retailer participating in the RBRC take-back program (they also take cell phones at these locations):

  • Best Buy
  • Home Depot
  • Sears
  • Radio Shack
  • US Cellular
  • Staples

If you cannot take them to a retailer for recycling, contact your local transfer station to see if they will take them.

All rechargeable batteries seem to have something in them that makes them hazardous, and valuable as a recyclable, usually heavy metals. Therefore, all rechargeable batteries should be recycled. The most popular rechargeable batteries are Nickel-Cadmium, known as Ni-Cd (pronounced nie'-cad). Another common type is Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH). Rechargeables are used for power tools, cell phones, laptops, flashlights, and many other household items. Most retailers that sell rechargeables also take old ones back free of charge and send them to a not-for-profit group called the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation who reclaims the metals in them. Ask your transfer station if they have an RBRC box to send in rechargeable batteries free of charge with no postage (what a deal!).

Lithium Batteries

Lithium batteries could be the short, squat battery in cameras, a button cell battery, or an AA or AAA battery.  You have to read the information on the battery to know what's in it.  

Lithium batteries contain metallic lithium that reacts violently when in contact with moisture and the batteries must be disposed of appropriately. If thrown in the landfill in a charged state, heavy equipment operating on top could crush the cases and the exposed lithium would cause a fire. Landfill fires are difficult to extinguish and can burn for years underground. Before recycling, apply a full discharge to consume the lithium content. Non-rechargeable lithium batteries are used in military combat, as well as watches, hearing aids and memory backup. Rechargeable lithium batteries for cell phones and laptops do not contain metallic lithium.  The rechargeable batteries should be recycled as well.

Bring these batteries to an HHW collection.  The lithium rechargeable batteries can be recycled as described above.

Button Batteries

Button-sized batteries should be taken to an HHW collection.

Button batteries are found in small items such as hearing aids, watches, and toys and are about the size of--you guessed it--a button. Button batteries can be alkaline, silver, mercury-oxide, or other cell-type. It is best to take any button batteries to an HHW event for collection as all of them contain some sort of hazardous material. Alkaline button batteries contain mercury even though their larger cousins do not.

Automotive Batteries

Many car parts stores will take back the old battery when you buy a new one. Also check your local recycling center to see if they take them or know who does (such as a scrap or metal dealer). These have value so you should be able to find someone to take them free of charge.

Auto batteries are known as "wet-cell" lead-acid as they contain liquid sulfuric acid. Due to both the acid and the lead, these batteries are considered hazardous. Yet because they contain so much lead which is easily reclaimed, they have value. Auto parts stores sometimes give rebates on new batteries when you bring in your old one. Or take it to a metal recycler, recycling center that takes them.  These methods are preferable to taking the battery to an HHW collection, as they accept batteries daily.