Earth Day (April 22, 2012) is always a good time to examine recycling practices. So, have you ever wondered what happens to the batteries you recycle? Do you have some lingering doubts as to whether the components actually get recycled or if it’s a just a feel good thing? Wonder no more. There’s so much hype around recycling that we understand the skepticism. But in the case of batteries, we’re here to tell you that they do get completely recycled and most of the components are reused.
Batteries contain toxic heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury and lead. Once batteries are collected at the recycling facility, the materials are separated by chemistry type. Recyclers will then place sealed lead acid (SLA), nickel cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries into designated boxes. After that, batteries are broken apart and separated into components. The broken battery pieces go into a large water-filled tank, where the lead and heavy materials fall to the bottom and the plastic rises to the top. At this point, the plastic pieces are scooped away and the liquids are drawn off, leaving the lead and heavy metals. A high-temperature heat treatment salvages reusable metals such as lead and cadmium from the batteries.
In the case of SLA batteries, the components are separated into three categories: plastic, lead and electrolytes. Broken pieces of plastic are collected, washed, dried and sent to a plastic recycler where the pieces are melted together. The molten plastic is put through an extruder that produces small uniform plastic pellets. The pellets are sold to manufacturers of battery covers and cases. Lead parts (e.g. posts and terminals) are cleaned and melted together in smelting furnaces. The molten lead is poured into ingot molds, where the impurities float to the top, are scraped away and the ingots are left to cool. Then the recovered lead oxide is sold back to manufacturers for use in new batteries and stainless steel.
Electrolytes can be handled in two ways. Spent battery acid can be neutralized with an industrial grade compound similar to baking soda. This turns the acid into water. The water is treated; cleaned and tested to ensure it meets clean water standards. Then it’s released into the public sewer system. The other option is to process and convert the spent battery acid into sodium sulfate, an odorless white powder that can be used in laundry detergent, glass and textile manufacturing.
If you aren’t already recycling your batteries, you should be. The best way to recycle most batteries is to collect them in a container and bring the filled container to a recycling center. Most battery manufacturers will take your batteries back for recycling. ZEUS Battery Products is the manufacturer of the ZEUS line of batteries and power products—an approved supplier for leading global companies. ZEUS Battery Products is a single-source supplier of stock and custom batteries, chargers, and accessories—also providing technical assistance to customers throughout Chicagoland and the U.S. Their headquarters are located at 191 Covington Drive, Bloomingdale, Illinois.