Car Battery Disposal and Recycling

Car batteries have a comparatively short lifespan compared to other parts of your vehicle. They can be recharged many times, but eventually they will reach the end of their useful life, and when that happens they must be disposed of properly, or recycled. You should never throw a car battery into your household waste. The acid in the batteries is dangerous, and can be very damaging to the environment.

Can car batteries be recycled?

Car batteries can be recycled. In fact, in the United States more than 98 percent of all car batteries do get recycled. In the UK, we still have a long way to go to reach close to 100% recycling rate, but as more and more specialist retailers are offering recycling services for car batteries, things are improving.

How to dispose of a car battery

Do not throw car battery in the bin, and do not dispose of it in a public bin, or, worse, by fly tipping! Battery acid is highly dangerous. It can burn clothing and your skin, and could even cause blindness if it were to get in someone’s eyes.

  • When you disconnect the battery and take it out of the car, make sure you are wearing protective clothing and gloves.
  • Handle the battery carefully, inspecting it for visible signs of damage before you transport it, and keeping it upright at all times.
  • If you need to leave the battery in your home for a while, keep it out of reach of pets and children.
  • Do not attempt to move a battery if it is visibly damaged or leaking. Call an expert and let them dispose of it for you.
  • If the battery is generally sound, then you can take it to an authorised disposal centre, where it will be recycled or safely disposed of.

Disposing of car batteries through incineration has been banned in the UK since 2010, which is another reason why you should never put one in a household waste bin.

Can hybrid car batteries be recycled?

Hybrid car batteries can be recycled, although not all recycling centres are capable of handling them. Many people dispose of nickel-metal hydride batteries in their normal waste, because the batteries are not considered toxic, and are therefore landfill-safe. Even so, disposing of batteries in landfill is not ideal. It would be better to recycle them, and more and more specialists are able to handle nickel-metal hydride batteries.

The best thing about these batteries is that they are zero-landfill products. This means that any parts that can’t be recycled will be consumed during the recycling process. The recycling will recover nickel, copper and iron, as well as neodymium and lanthanum. There is no waste left behind once the recycling is finished.

As hybrid cars become more commonplace, demand for hybrid car battery recycling is increasing, and more companies are starting to offer the service. Unlike conventional car batteries, simply throwing out a hybrid car battery is not going to do massive amounts of damage to the environment, but since the batteries are safer to handle and can be recycled, it makes sense to do so.

Can you recycle electric car batteries?

Electric car batteries are usually lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are commonly destined for landfill, but they can be recycled. Unlike nickel-metal hydride batteries they are not always zero-landfill batteries, but they can be recycled. Usually, at least 70 percent of the battery can be recycled. Some modern batteries are completely recoverable, but it depends on the specific chemistry being used.

There are around six different types of lithium battery in use, and there are several more in development. The metals that can be recovered are cobalt, iron, copper, manganese and nickel, and there is some ongoing research into recovering lithium, although at this moment in time it is not possible to reclaim that particular metal. The parts of the battery that cannot be recycled are, for the most part, used as fuel in the furnaces to melt down the other metals.

Lithium is incredibly cheap, so at the moment it is hard to justify the expense of recovering it from a lithium-ion battery. As lithium-ion batteries become more commonplace in cars, however, that may change.

Where to recycle car batteries

Recycling car batteries requires some highly specialist equipment in order to break the battery into pieces, including plastic, acid, lead grid and lead oxide, and to recover those parts. Recycling hybrid or electric car batteries requires a different set of equipment.

Fortunately, there are recycling services that will accept most kinds of waste and that are qualified in the safe handling and sorting of recyclable products. You can find your nearest recycling centre on www.recycle-more.co.uk. Just find the “Where Can I Recycle?” section of the page, select ‘Car Batteries’ from the list, and then enter your postcode.

Sometimes, it’s possible to sell used car batteries to a scrap dealer, but the price per battery is usually only around £5-£10, so unless you are taking a lot of other scrap to the yard at the same time, it would probably not be worth the trip for you, financially. It makes more sense to drop off a used car battery along with your other recycling, so that you can get rid of it in a single trip, and be safe in the knowledge that the battery is being properly handled.

If you are replacing an old car battery with a new one, many retailers will take the old battery and give you a modest discount on the new one in return. Even if the retailer won’t do that, if they offer a fitting service they may be willing to take the old battery for you, saving you from having to take a trip to a recycling centre. Halfords, for example, accept old batteries at most of their stores.

Whatever you decide, make sure that you dispose of the battery correctly, especially if it’s a traditional car battery. Lead is highly toxic to both humans and animals, so batteries must be handled with respect.

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