Homeowner’s Guide To Sealed Lead Acid Battery Recycling & Disposal: Waste Management Best Practices

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Sealed lead acid batteries contain toxic heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury and lead.  Recycling these types of batteries is good for the environment.  It keeps them out of landfills, where heavy metals may leak into the ground when the battery casing corrodes.  This causes soil and water pollution and endangers wildlife. If batteries are incinerated with household waste, the heavy metals in them can cause air pollution. Recycling sealed lead acid batteries recovers the valuable metals and saves energy by reducing the need for raw materials.  When your battery can no longer accept a charge and you drop it off at your local lead acid battery retailer to be recycled, many of us are curious to know what happens to the battery from there.  The following are 4 battery recycling FAQs about how sealed lead acid batteries are physically recycled at end-site recycling centers.

What takes place after I drop off my batteries to be recycled? 

All old sealed lead acid batteries are transported safely via trucks to recycling facilities.  Once batteries are collected at the 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) into designated boxes.  After that, old SLA batteries are broken apart and separated into components.  A hammermill machine hammers the batteries into pieces.   

What happens to the broken battery pieces? 

The broken battery pieces go into a large tank, where the lead and heavy materials fall to the bottom while the plastic rises to the top.  At this point, the polypropylene or plastic pieces are scooped away and the liquids are drawn off, leaving the lead and heavy metals.  A high-temperature heat treatment is used to salvage reusable metals such as lead and cadmium from the batteries. 

What steps occur during the battery recycling process

Sealed lead acid battery components are separated into 3 categories: plastic, lead and electrolytes.


Broken pieces of polypropylene or plastic are collected, washed, blow dried and sent to a plastic recycler where the pieces are melted together into an almost liquid state. The molten plastic is put through an extruder that produces small plastic pellets of a uniform size.  The pellets are sold to a manufacturer of battery covers and cases and the recycling process begins again. 


Lead grids, lead oxide and other lead parts (e.g. posts and terminals) are cleaned and melted together in smelting furnaces.  When the lead reaches its melting point, the molten lead is poured into ingot molds. After a few minutes, the leads impurities float to the top of the still-molten lead in the ingot molds.  The impurities are scraped away and the ingots are left to cool.  After cooling, the ingots and recovered lead oxide are sold back to manufacturers for use in new lead plate production.  The ingots or blocks of metal can then be used again in new batteries and battery grids.

Electrolyte – Sulfuric Acid

Old battery acid can be handled in two ways. Spent battery acid can be neutralized with an industrial grade compound similar to household baking soda.  This turns the acid into water.  The water is treated; cleaned and tested to ensure it meets clean water standards.  It is then released into the public sewer system.   The other treatment option is to process and convert the spent battery acid into sodium sulfate, an odorless white powder that’s used in laundry detergent, glass and textile manufacturing.  This takes a material that would normally be discarded and turns it into a useful product.

How can I go about recycling my old sealed lead acid batteries?

Many states impose hefty fines on anyone or any organization found disposing of sealed lead acid batteries incorrectly.  Retail outlets in most states must by law accept old sealed lead acid batteries for recycling.  Most sealed lead acid battery retailers will take your battery back for recycling or you can try the original place where you bought your battery.  The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) also accepts sealed lead acid batteries weighing up to 2 pounds and has collection centers at major retail stores that sell rechargeable batteries and rechargeable products. To learn more about where and what old batteries can be recycled or to find a recycling center near you, you can contact the RBRC at 1-800-822-8837 or by visiting their online drop location finder at   

For more information on the recycling process and how to properly recycle your sealed lead acid batteries, visit our website at or call us at 877-469-4255.

By jennymwright

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