Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

How to responsibly recycle old and unused batteries

If you’re planning on doing any kind of spring cleaning this year, odds are pretty good that you’ll stumble upon a box full of old, dead batteries that you’ve been meaning to take care of responsibly. Maybe you haven’t been quite sure where or how to drop them off, or maybe you just haven’t had the time to get around to it. Either way, the process is pretty straightforward, and we’re going to run you through it. 

Why do batteries die?

It’s helpful to start by looking at how batteries work. When a battery is charged, it pulls electrons to one side of the battery. A barrier prevents those electrons from easily getting to the other side, despite the attraction. However, completing a circuit (i.e., connecting the battery to a device you want powered) provides a path through which those electrons can flow. That current is electricity. When the battery is charged again, it pulls those electrons through the barrier separating the two halves of the battery. 

This entire system hinges on having a stable medium that electrons can be stored in. Many of our devices use lithium as that medium on the positively charged anode side. Graphite (and sometimes graphene) is used on the negatively charged cathode end. These mediums start to degrade as electrons are pulled out of and pushed into each side every cycle. Even the separator can lose its efficiency. The end result is a gradually decreasing ability for these batteries to hold a charge as the mediums for holding electrons become more and more irregular. 

What leaks out of batteries?

If you’ve been hoarding your dead batteries for awhile, you might have seen some residue leaking from them. When the chemical components of a battery degrade, they create gas. This adds pressure inside a battery, making them sometimes look like a spicy pillow. Once the seal on the battery is broken, that pressure can sometimes force some the battery’s liquid electrolyte to escape. It doesn’t take long for that electrolyte to react with the air and turn into a salt. That salt is chemically stable, but like the liquid electrolyte, is an irritant. If you see that powdery residue, make sure to use gloves while handling it.  

Are dead batteries dangerous?

Yes, dead batteries can be dangerous. A battery’s whole job is to store potential energy. If their means of containment is compromised, they can release all that chemical energy at once in a totally uncontrolled way, better known as an explosion. Even before getting to that point, the chemicals inside of a battery are rather caustic, potentially damaging whatever’s around them when they leak. In order to minimize danger, you’ll want to dispose of your dead batteries sooner than later. When storing them, put tape over contacts of each battery to prevent an accidental circuit from forming. 

Several batteries stacked up, side by side.
Borys Shevchuk / 123RF

What kind of batteries are recyclable?

Most batteries can be recycled, but with varying levels of efficiency. Lithium-ion batteries are hard to recycle as their technology is evolving rapidly. As a result, the materials available to extract can vary, as can their value. On top of the engineering challenges this poses, it also makes it hard for recycling facilities to justify economically. Our recycling capabilities need to ramp up quickly to meet the rising tide of dying lithium-ion batteries despite these hurdles.

Other battery types have well-established track records for recycling, however. The big lead acid batteries you’ll see in cars and solar storage are over 90% recyclable.  

How are batteries recycled?

Batteries are typically recycled in the same way most electronics are: They’re shredded, sorted, treated in solvents, then smelted. This process, particularly the smelting part, can have its own significant environmental impact.   

How should I prepare my batteries for recycling?

To start, it’s good to tape over the contacts of your batteries to prevent any accidental circuits. The next most important thing is sorting. Make sure your lithium ion batteries are separate from your alkaline and other types of batteries. Once that’s done, you’ll want to double-check with your drop-off point to see which of those types they accept. Making sure they’re clearly labeled can ensure they’ll be properly processed. 

How to responsibly recycle old and unused batteries in your state

Finding specific drop-off points varies by location. We’re going to break down some of the best drop-off locations in several states across the U.S. The easiest way to find a battery recycling drop-off point is using a locator like Call2Recycle. They also offer a mail-in option, which can be handy if you’re a long ways from a drop-off. 

How to responsibly recycle old and unused batteries in California

These are some of the top-rated battery recycling locations in California. 

How to responsibly recycle old and unused batteries in Texas

If you’re looking to recycle batteries in Texas, these are the best places to go. 

How to responsibly recycle old and unused batteries in Florida

For those in Florida, these are the perfect battery drop-offs.

How to responsibly recycle old and unused batteries in New York

There are loads of battery recycling options in New York, but these are some of the best. 

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Sage
Simon has been publishing in tech since before the first iPhone was released. When he's not busy lighting a candle for the…
Best Google Nest deals: Save on Nest Thermostat, Hubs, and Doorbell
Google Nest Home devices.

There are a lot of different home ecosystems you can go for, and there are really three big players in the market: Amazon, Samsung, and Google. If you're in the Google ecosystem already, then you're in luck because there's a plethora of devices you can get to expand your smart home with Google-supported devices. Primarily, that includes the Nest Hub, Camera, Doorbell, and thermostat, and there are quite a lot of excellent deals across the board for all of these. Of course, the deals come and go along with the sales events, but we've collected our favorite Google Nest deals below and will update them regularly as we find new and better deals.

Google Nest Hub Deals

Read more
Last chance to get this Roomba robot vacuum for $159 (42% off)
iRobot Roomba 694 at Best Buy - WiFi connected robot vacuum

There's a lot of things that a robot vacuum can do to help you keep your floors clean, and if you're interested in getting one, you're going to want to take advantage of this 42% discount for the iRobot Roomba 694. A leftover offer from the robot vacuum Cyber Monday deals, it's still online to give you one last chance to buy the robot vacuum for just $159 instead of $275. There's no telling how much time is remaining before you miss out on the $116 in savings, so if you want it, you're going to have to hurry with your purchase.

Why you should buy the iRobot Roomba 694 robot vacuum
The iRobot Roomba 694 may not be the latest model of the brand's robot vacuums, but for most families, it will get the job done. It features a three-stage cleaning system that allows it to pick up all kinds of dirt, debris, and pet hair, alongside an edge-sweeping brush that handles corners and edges and dual multi-surface brushes that work on different floor types. The robot vacuum also comes with an auto-adjust cleaning head that can change its height, so it can go from carpets to hard floors without missing a beat. It can run for 90 minutes from a full charge, after which it will automatically return to its dock to recharge.

Read more
Best Buy deals: Save on laptops, TVs, appliances, and more
best buy shuts down insignia line smart home products store 2 768x768

One of the best places to shop for almost anything involving electronics says so right in its name: Best Buy. The retail giant has a ton of departments with some of today’s most popular devices, components, and appliances for sale. It also offers a lot of these at a discount, which is certainly what we’re seeing right now. Some of the best TV deals, best tablet deals, best laptop deals, and best phone deals can currently be found at Best Buy, and those are just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve tracked down all of the best deals you can shop at Best Buy right now, so read onward for some gift ideas for yourself or a loved one and for some great ways to save.
Best Buy TV deals

There may be no better place to purchase one of the best TVs than Best Buy. There is almost always some huge savings to find on TVs at Best Buy, and that’s certainly the case right now. You’ll find deals top TV brands like Sony, Samsung, and LG, and more budget-friendly brands like TCL and Hisense are in play, too.

Read more