Every year, companies are upgrading electronic equipment that stopped working or is reaching its end-of-life. As you make these important upgrades, what do you do with that outdated equipment? Some companies use an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach and tuck old electronics away in the back of a storeroom or closet. Others toss them into a dumpster as they don’t understand the laws or can’t find a local electronics recycling facility.
As you replace your company cell phones, tablets, laptops, and other devices containing lithium-ion batteries, what do you do with them? You need to do your part and make sure they’re being recycled rather than trashed.
What Lithium-Ion Batteries Does Your Company Have in Hand?
Is your company car a hybrid or electric vehicle? If so, that’s one business asset that has a lithium-ion battery. The top 10 electronic devices found in offices and businesses that have lithium-ion batteries are:
- Electric vehicles
- Bluetooth headsets and headphones
- Two-way radios
- Rechargeable, wireless mice
- Digital cameras
- Handheld scanners
The lithium-ion batteries and rechargeable electronics your company uses and replaces will vary from one industry to the next. If you own a retail store, you likely have a rechargeable scanner for pricing and reading UPC codes. You may have a tablet with a card reader for completing purchases if you don’t have a cash register. Laptops, cellphones, and calculators are often found in stores.
In a medical or administrative office, laptops and headsets or headphones are common. Workers likely have rechargeable mice if they have a desktop computer. Cellphones are also found in office environments.
Construction sites and big warehouses have two-way radios, cellphones, digital cameras, and handheld scanners. Restaurants have tablets, cellphones, and possibly electronic vehicles for food deliveries.
Statista reports that most consumers replace laptops within 10 years. Tablets have an even shorter lifespan and are replaced every five years. Rechargeable mice are often replaced within four years. Cell phones are the worst offenders as their average lifespan is two years. In a business setting with more frequent use, the lifespans may be even shorter.
As you upgrade electronics, it’s important to make sure you’re recycling them properly. Lithium-ion batteries cannot go into the trash. These batteries have caused several major fires at recycling facilities or in waste and recycling trucks. In 2018, a five-alarm fire in Queens, NY, took two days to extinguish. A lithium-ion battery was discovered to be behind the blaze.
Another issue that’s occurring across the U.S. are fires in garbage trucks that are caused by improper disposal of lithium-ion batteries. People put them in the trash not realizing that if the truck crushes the batteries or punctures the battery’s case, a fire can start. Once on fire, the entire contents of the truck pose a risk. There have been cases of entire trucks burning up due to improper disposal of batteries.
You and your employees cannot throw out lithium-ion batteries. They have to be recycled responsibly. Make sure you have a policy in place for recycling batteries.
Legal Requirements for Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries
Federal law requires small-sealed lead and nickel cadmium batteries to be recycled properly. That was one of the two main goals of the Battery Act of 1996. Violators of the Battery Act face penalties of up to $10,000. Other types of batteries may not be covered under federal laws, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to recycle them. Many states have their own laws.
Many states have laws and regulations regarding battery recycling. In California, all battery types must be recycled. Other states with statewide battery recycling requirements include Arkansas, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Some states have programs where the battery producers must pay for battery recycling programs or take them back. Those states are Florida, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.
If your state isn’t on this list, it means your business is not required to recycle. You still need to do the right thing and recycle your lithium-ion batteries. It keeps heavy metals, plastic, and dangerous chemicals from leaching into soil and groundwater.
How Lithium-Ion Batteries Are Recycled
Before a lithium-ion battery is recycled, the battery has to be deactivated. To do that, you can burn them in smelting factories (pyrometallurgy) to remove the organic materials and plastics and leave behind the metals like cobalt, copper, and nickel. The problem with pyrometallurgy is that the smelting process results in the emissions of toxic gases.
Hydrometallurgy uses a process known as leaching. Leaching uses acid to dissolve the metals in a lithium-ion battery. Before the acid bath takes place, the plastic casing must be removed and any remaining battery charge has to be drained. The benefit to hydrometallurgy is that it’s better for recovering the majority of the battery’s materials including the lithium.
ERI starts by separating all recycled batteries by their chemistry and type of battery. Alkaline batteries end up getting separated into plastic, steel, and zinc/manganese. Lithium-ion batteries are different and break the battery down into the components like lithium, plastic, and metal.
Partner With a Responsible ITAD and Electronics Recycler
Sometimes, companies recycle their lithium-ion batteries and electronics with a program they believe is responsible only to learn that the waste is being shipped overseas where it gets trashed. Back in 2016, Basel Action Network placed GPS trackers into hundreds of computers, printers, and TVs that were dropped off at electronic take-back programs.
While most stayed in the U.S. and were recycled properly, some were tracked to other countries where they ended up in secondhand shops or in junkyards. Some of the items had been dropped off through a well-known recycling program operated by Goodwill and Dell. Dell immediately launched an investigation to see how that had happened.
When your company recycles electronics and lithium-ion batteries, you need to make sure they’re not ending up in the wrong hands. Be certain where your electronics end up by partnering with a responsible electronics recycler. Check the certifications for recycling companies that promise to be environmentally responsible when it comes to battery recycling.
ERI is certified by eStewards, R2, and several ISO programs. When you send your rechargeable electronics to one of our facilities, be assured that we destroy data, refurbish any electronics with value, and recycle the rest including any built-in lithium-ion batteries. We offer full ITAD services and can come to your site to destroy data if that makes you feel more comfortable.
If you have a stockpile of batteries, ask us about our box program for recycling batteries. We can send a box to your business for you to fill with alkaline, button batteries, lithium-ion batteries, and many other batteries containing carbon-zinc, lead, mercuric oxide, mercury, nickel, and zinc. We offer battery recycling boxes as singles, two-packs, or five-packs for your convenience.