Understanding the Most Abundant Commodities in Batteries

How are batteries made? It’s something you must consider before you dispose of a spent battery. Every battery contains metals and substances that are becoming harder to find in the earth or have the potential to damage the environment.

While people used to throw batteries in the trash, this isn’t the best way to dispose of them. It may be what you’re used to, but there are better methods that reuse the components that go into the construction of a battery. When they’ve served their purpose and no longer offer a charge, they’re still packed with commodities that should be recovered in an electronics recycling plant.

 Batteries contain a mix of metals and acids that can harm the environment if you toss them into the trash. Mercury, lead, silver, and cadmium are just a few of the commodities found in batteries. While some states do not mandate battery recycling, many require the responsible recycling of all battery types.

 Do your part and save spent batteries for recycling. Cover the ends with a strip of electrical tape and put them into a container to bring to your local recycling center or participating retailer that offers battery recycling. When you do, you’re helping recover valuable commodities that can be used to make new items.

 How Is a Battery Constructed?

 No matter what kind of battery you have, the negative side is the anode. The positive side of a battery is called the cathode. Then, an electrolyte solution and zinc gel made from substances like graphite, manganese, potassium, and zinc is positioned between the two sides and helps turn the chemical energy into electricity.

 What happens with things like manganese, graphite, potassium, and zinc? They’re recycled and turned into fertilizers. They can help add nutrients to soils in cornfields.

 What goes into a battery from there depends on the type of battery. In a typical cylindrical battery, a steel nail collects the electrical current to transfer it to the item. You have metal both outside and inside the battery.

 These internal components and solutions are surrounded by a hard case that’s often made of steel. Steel is the first of the commodities in a battery that’s recycled to be turned into new items. Plastic and paper are also critical components in many batteries.

 A traditional car battery is in a plastic case and contains battery grids constructed from lead strips. The charge moves through a mixture of lead oxide, sulfuric acid, water, and powder sulfate. They collect the electrical current that powers a car, lawn tractor, etc.

 The batteries in electric vehicles are typical Li-ion batteries that contain lithium salt, metal oxide, and graphite. Around 80% of the components in these batteries are recyclable materials that can get reused to make new products.

 How much can you really recycle from one EV battery? The estimation is:

  •  35 kg of nickel
  • 20 kg of manganese
  • 14 kg of cobalt
  • 8 kg of lithium

 As more electric vehicles hit the market, there are concerns that heavy metals like cobalt and nickel could run into shortages. Plus, they’re damaging to the environment, so they must be responsibly recycled.

 There’s another consideration you should keep in mind. Technology continues to improve the construction and environmentally-friendly nature of batteries. Years ago, EV batteries needed to be replaced after a decade or two. Today, the estimates are that most batteries will outlive the cars they’re in.

 It Helps to Know What Types of Batteries You’re Recycling

 How do you know what commodities are in a battery? Much of this comes down to the type of battery. Here’s a list of the different types of batteries found in homes and offices.

 Alkaline – When you go to a store and purchase batteries from the shelf, you’re likely buying alkaline batteries. They’re available in every size imaginable, starting with 9-volt and going through AA, AAA, C, D, etc. You can use them in cold temperatures without much battery drain. They have a shelf life of under a decade.

 Carbon Zinc – Carbon zinc batteries don’t last long, as they’re low-energy batteries. If your device requires a lot of power when in use or powering up, these will usually run out of charge before they’re of much use. They don’t do well in temperature extremes and rarely last more than three years on a shelf.

 Lithium – Lithium batteries are very common and have a high energy density, which helps improve storage and life. Most have a shelf life of a decade or longer. Lithium batteries are found in 9-volt, AA, and AAA batteries. They’re one of the best batteries for temperature extremes.

 Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) – Any rechargeable device, such as a laptop or cellphone, likely has a li-ion battery in it. They last longer as you plug the device in to recharge the battery over and over.

 Nickel Cadmium – NiCd batteries are found in devices that use a lot of power, such as a digital camera or a child’s toy. They come in 9-volt, AA, AAA, and C sizes. The batteries are rechargeable in battery chargers explicitly designed for recharging NiCd batteries.

 Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) – NiMH batteries are found in devices like remotes and smoke alarms that don’t use a lot of electricity. You can recharge them, but they lose the ability to hold a charge after a few hundred charges.

 Silver Oxide – The small round calculator, hearing aid, and watch batteries are often called button cells. They look like buttons. They have a long shelf life and are high energy, but they’re costly because they contain silver.

 Zinc Air – Zinc air batteries are lightweight and rely on a reaction with oxygen (air) to produce electrical power. A plastic tab must be removed before the battery can be used. They’re used most often in hearing aids. Zinc is one of the commodities you’ll recover from these batteries.

 Why does it matter what type of battery you have? Some batteries get thrown into the trash and cause fires, forcing haulers to dump the garbage they’re hauling onto city streets to prevent a truck fire. A punctured lithium battery has the potential to set all paper trash in the same load on fire. Those first spread quickly and can be devastating to companies and communities. All batteries can and should be recycled.

When you recycle many of these batteries, you’re recycling steel, but there are other commodities that you recycle, including:

  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Silver

 Look into recycling programs in your community to find out where you should bring spent batteries for recycling. ERI makes recycling easy if your community doesn’t offer battery recycling for businesses. Fill a box with up to 43 pounds of batteries and ship the package to us for responsible recycling. We pay for the shipping! Order your battery recycling box at Shop.ERIDirect.com.