Think your old batteries don’t matter? Each one recycled saves a chunk of our planet. Join the charge—recycle your lithium-ion batteries today!
Used batteries have been a problem for decades from both household and industrial waste perspectives. While battery technology has changed a lot, even the most advanced rechargeable lithium-ion batteries may still contain materials that are considered hazardous.
It’s not only environmental pollution that is a problem. During the end-of-life stage of any modern electronic device, poor handling, storage, and disposal could increase the risk of fire or poisoning.
A much bigger problem is that the real “battery crisis” is still ahead of us. And we’re not just talking about li-Ion power banks for your phone.
Disposing of huge numbers of batteries from electric vehicles is going to be the real challenge — one we should master using the recycling technology we have today.
Fortunately, lithium-ion battery recycling is starting to become a widespread practice.
Here’s how you can do your part.
Yes, lithium-ion batteries are recyclable, but the process is a bit complicated. This might be the reason why you’re struggling to find local recycling centers equipped to handle them.
The first challenge to lithium battery recycling is that you can’t handle those batteries like any other electronic waste.
Lithium is a highly reactive element.
To put it simply, mixing a lithium battery with regular paper recycling is a bad idea. They can get hot or spark a fire if damaged or improperly handled. These incidents are not common, but they're happening more as these batteries become more widespread.
Properly recycling lithium-ion batteries is essential for safety and environmental protection. These batteries aren't simply reusable; they must undergo a specific recycling process to manage their unique risks.
In addition, lithium battery recycling reduces the need for new mineral extraction, which is always a win for the environment.
There has been a debate regarding whether lithium batteries can be 100% recycled.
While not everything in a lithium battery is recoverable, the majority of the materials can be recycled. The technology is improving, and recycling methods are becoming more efficient, aiming to increase this percentage.
Also, you should know that you cannot recycle lithium batteries indefinitely.
The materials recovered from lithium-ion batteries, like metals, can be recycled multiple times. However, each cycle might reduce the purity of the material. Researchers are working on making the recycling loop as endless as possible.
Another thing you should note is that you can NEVER throw lithium batteries in the trash bin.
Lithium batteries need special handling because they can be dangerous if damaged. They can't be treated like regular recyclables because they could catch fire or release harmful chemicals if not processed correctly.
There's a misunderstanding regarding the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries. While big electronics manufacturers cite studies labeling lithium as one of the least toxic metals in battery production, this doesn't give the whole picture.
It's crucial to look beyond such claims.
First, let’s take a look at what a lithium-ion battery is made of. Lithium-ion batteries are made up of a mix of materials.
Depending on the brand, they typically contain 5-20% cobalt, 5-10% nickel, and 5-7% lithium. Along with these metals, there are also about 15% organic chemicals and 7% plastics that make up the rest of the battery. Each manufacturer might use slightly different amounts, but this gives you a general idea of what's inside these batteries.
Certain lithium-ion batteries include metals that, even in small amounts, can cause significant environmental damage when they break down.
In landfills, these batteries can leak dangerous contaminants, including cobalt, manganese, and nickel—not to mention hazardous lithium salts and plastics.
Moreover, lithium-ion batteries pose a risk of igniting underground fires that smolder for extended periods. These fires can release toxic chemicals into the surrounding waste and create substantial voids in the landfill, potentially leading to surface collapse and further burying of flammable materials.
Despite these dangers, an estimated 98.3% of lithium-ion batteries are discarded in landfills—a concerning figure given that over 90% of metals like cobalt and nickel can be recovered through recycling.
On a positive note, advances in lithium-ion battery technology are underway.
Manufacturers are working on safer alternatives, replacing cobalt with non-toxic materials such as manganese oxide or phosphate, which are both safer for the environment and more abundant.
As consumers, we can advocate for and participate in sustainable disposal practices, driving the demand for better recycling infrastructure and more environmentally friendly batteries.
Before lithium-ion batteries even reach landfills, they pose a toxic threat.
If they're damaged, they can release fine particles with aerodynamic diameters of less than 10 or 2.5 μm—known as PM10 and PM2.5—into the air.
These particles are especially harmful because they carry metals like arsenic, cadmium, and cobalt that can be breathed in, leading to serious health problems, including heart and lung diseases, cancer risks, and hormonal imbalances.
Used lithium-ion batteries can also emit hydrofluoric acid (HF), a gas that's dangerous if it comes into contact with skin or is inhaled, as it penetrates deep into the body, causing severe toxic effects. A single electric vehicle's battery pack can release an alarming amount of HF.
It is estimated that between 20 and 200 mg of HF can be released per Wattage Capacity of the electric vehicle battery pack. This easily amounts to more than the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Immediate Danger to Life or Health (IDLH) level.
Do not under any circumstance try to take apart a lithium-ion battery! Leave it to the professionals who know how to protect themselves and the environment.
Proper disposal is also important because lithium-ion batteries can pose a fire hazard when handled or stored improperly.
At GreenCitizen, over 95% of the exploded or bulging batteries that we get are from Apple products that use the Lithium Polymer (LiPo) style.
Some of us still remember the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall when improperly designed li-ion batteries were prone to overheating and exploding.
This effect is called the thermal runoff — a lithium cell basically self-heats, bulges, and combusts.
The problem is not going away by itself.
Veolia, one of the global waste handling companies has noted a 38% increase in fire incidents since 2017, due to the presence of lithium-ion batteries in the waste stream.
The UK Environmental Services Association estimates that nearly 250 fires in the country’s waste treatment centers were caused by small Li-ion batteries between 2019 and 2020.
The German Steel Recyclers Conferedation (BDSV) has reported a whopping 90% of fires at their associated sites in 2020 caused by Li-ion batteries.
But how can this happen?
If a charged lithium cell is crushed or pierced, it will short-circuit which also causes thermal runoff that leads to combustion or explosion.
This is one of the great challenges in lithium-ion battery recycling. You need to do it safely, because setting fire to all the materials you want to recycle is not the best way of recycling.
When lithium-ion batteries end up in landfills, they can create leachate, a toxic liquid that forms when rainwater filters through waste material.
This leachate can carry dangerous chemicals and metals from the batteries, seeping into and contaminating soil and groundwater. The pollutants from lithium-ion batteries, such as heavy metals and byproducts from the degradation of electrolytes, as well as acidic gases like HF, HCl, and SO2, not only poison the water but can also acidify it.
This acidification can damage local ecosystems, similar to the effects of acid rain, harming plant and animal life.
The environmental impacts of discarding lithium-ion batteries in landfills can be profound and long-lasting.
It's crucial to manage these batteries carefully at the end of their life, ensuring they are recycled properly to prevent harm to human health, reduce fire risks, and protect our groundwater from contamination.
Identifying a faulty or damaged lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery is crucial for safety and device performance. Here are signs and tests backed by data and expert guidance to help you determine the health of your Li-ion battery:
A battery that appears swollen or has a bloated casing is a clear indicator of damage. Swelling can be caused by gas buildup due to overcharging, deep discharging, or internal short circuit.
This is a common issue; for instance, many Apple users have complained about the issue of battery swelling.
Any discoloration or warping of the battery case could signify overheating, which is a serious concern.
If your battery drains more quickly than it used to, it's often a sign of degradation. A study published by Battery University indicates that after 300-500 full charge-discharge cycles, Li-ion batteries typically retain only about 70% of their original capacity.
If the battery doesn’t hold a charge at all or drops charge rapidly, it's likely compromised. Research shows that high temperatures can accelerate degradation, with every 15°F increase—over 77°F room temperature—cutting the battery's life in half.
Using a multimeter to check the battery's voltage can tell you a lot. Batteries wear out over time, with their voltage dropping after repeated use.
A typical 3.4 V lithium-ion battery charges up to 4.2 Volts but will spend most of its life at 3.7 volts. When it dips to 3.4 volts, it's near the end of its lifespan, and if it drops below 3.0 volts, it's time to replace it.
A quick voltage check with a multimeter can tell you if your battery is still good or needs to be replaced.
Batteries that overheat during charging or use can be dangerous. Internal resistance can cause a battery to heat up. A study published in ResearchGate suggests the acceptable temperature range for Li-ion batteries during operation is 15°C to 35°C.
A leaking battery or a strange chemical smell can indicate a breached battery cell, which is hazardous.
Professional testing of a battery's internal resistance can reveal health. A rising resistance implies a decline in performance. Batteries with a resistance beyond the manufacturer's specification are considered damaged.
Many modern devices come with software that reports battery health. Apple's iOS, for example, includes a feature that shows battery capacity relative to when it was new.
Some protective cases for phones include smart technology that can diagnose battery health and offer detailed data about charging cycles and overall battery efficiency.
Stay informed about recalls and safety notices from manufacturers. The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall is a notorious example of a systemic battery fault where overheating was prevalent, leading to a worldwide recall.
If you're unsure about your battery's condition, a professional technician can conduct a thorough assessment. Manufacturers like Dell and HP offer battery diagnostics tools and services to evaluate your battery's health.
Remember, a damaged Li-ion battery can pose a fire risk and should be replaced immediately. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for disposal and never throw a Li-ion battery in regular trash due to the potential for environmental harm and fire hazards.
Recycling lithium-ion batteries is essential for environmental protection and resource conservation.
Here's a guide on how to do it properly:
Try using Green Directory to find nearby professional lithium battery recycling centers. Our listed recycling centers have the right types of equipment and qualified professionals who can recycle damaged or dead batteries.
Please do try it out.
Some electronics stores and retailers offer battery recycling bins where you can drop off old batteries at no cost.
Battery Handling: Tape the battery terminals or place each battery in a separate plastic bag to prevent short-circuiting, which could cause a fire.
Transport Safely: When transporting batteries for recycling, ensure they are kept at a moderate temperature and away from any flammable materials.
Disassembly: Professional recyclers disassemble batteries into their component parts. This often involves shredding, which separates the different materials.
Material Separation: Metals and other materials are then separated using various processes like hydro-metallurgy, pyro-metallurgy, or mechanical separation.
Recovery and Repurposing: Recovered materials, such as cobalt, lithium, and nickel, can be used to make new batteries or for other applications.
Follow Guidelines: Always adhere to your local environmental regulations when recycling batteries to ensure safety and compliance.
Promote Safe Practices: Encourage others to recycle their batteries by sharing information and resources.
Some manufacturers have their own take-back programs. Check if the company of your device offers a recycling program for batteries.
Battery Types: Be aware that not all lithium batteries are recycled the same way. For example, lithium primary and lithium-ion batteries have different recycling processes.
Updates on Technology: Recycling technology is constantly improving. Stay updated on new recycling methods to ensure you're recycling your batteries in the most efficient way possible.
By following these steps, you can ensure that your lithium-ion batteries are recycled safely and responsibly, contributing to a healthier planet and the conservation of valuable resources.
The only safe way to recycle Li-ion batteries is to have them processed by a qualified electric and electronic recycling center.
For individuals, that means looking up your nearest center and dropping off any old phones, games consoles, laptops, or tablets. These will generally be accepted free of charge and recycled properly.
The problem is that not all recycling centers accept lithium-ion batteries. Email inquiries and phone calls take a long time, provided you have already tracked down the suitable facilities in your area.
GreenCitizen has developed the Green Directory, as a one-stop service for finding recycling services. The service is easy to use:
You’ll get a list of businesses that accept lithium batteries in your area. These might be big box stores, electronics retailers, or specialized recyclers.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and want to safely recycle your lithium-ion batteries, take a look at GreenCitizen’s electronic recycling program.
With GreenCitizen, you can dispose of lithium-ion batteries in two ways:
Private residents are welcome to bring their lithium-ion batteries to our EcoCenter in Burlingame.
Our address is — 1831 Old Bayshore HWY, Suite 2, Burlingame, CA 94010 USA.
Your lithium-ion battery will be recycled responsibly and safely, with no hazardous leaks and discharges.
But we don’t stop at batteries. We also recycle computers, laptops, monitors, and tablets.
Businesses that have larger quantities of batteries to dispose of may be able to arrange a collection by a recycling center or other services, so it’s worth contacting them first.
Feel free to contact our Business Pickup Service to schedule a pickup.
If your company is in the San Francisco Bay Area, just post us a pickup request and we’ll get you taken care of.
On your part, you should:
Our pickup service comes especially handy for large battery packs, like those that you can find in electric vehicles. It’s not that you can just pick them up and drop them off like any other electronic waste.
On average, about 50% of a lithium-ion battery can be recycled in an effective way. Unfortunately, this means that a considerable amount of the materials in it have to be safely stored in a permanent way. However, there have been some breakthroughs in recycling technology, with a Finish company developing energy-efficient processes to deal with up to 80% of the materials in rechargeable batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are not necessarily bad for the environment; it's the metals in them that are, especially if one of those metals is cobalt. If they don’t go through proper recycling processes, then metals like cobalt and nickel can leak into the ground and cause groundwater pollution.
When lithium-ion batteries die, the process that allows for ions to pass back and forth between electrodes slows down. This means that less energy can be stored, and you'll ultimately run out of power when you need it the most.
Lithium-ion batteries typically last about three years or 300 to 500 charge cycles before they get to a stage where they will no longer retain much energy.
Lithium-ion batteries are insanely useful, but it's important that you don’t unknowingly put yourself or others in danger because of them.
The fire hazards associated with them and the toxic metals that they contain could potentially lead to serious issues unless these batteries are properly recycled.
If you would like to recycle lithium-ion batteries, you can visit the Green Directory to find battery recycling drop-off centers near you.
You can also give us a call at GreenCitizen at (650) 493-8700 if you want to know more information about lithium batteries.
We thank you for doing your part for the environment!