How are you disposing of alkaline batteries? All of the batteries you use around a home or business – 9-volt, AA, AAA, C, D, etc. – are all examples of single-use alkaline battery sizes. It’s the Energizer, Duracell, Rayovac, and generic store brand batteries you purchase in stores.

Single-use batteries go into fire/smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, flashlights, remotes, scales, wall clocks, toys, and so many other smaller electronics. While some items have shifted to being rechargeable with lithium-ion batteries and USB cables, many others still use alkaline batteries.

It’s estimated that Americans purchase and use almost 3 million single-use batteries each year. While this number is decreasing as more households switch to rechargeable batteries, there are still situations where single-use batteries are better options. Typically, a single-use battery only lasts a few years. They cannot be recharged and reused. It’s important at that point to recycle them rather than tossing them into the trash.

While single-use batteries aren’t as dangerous in a trash truck as lithium batteries, throwing them into the trash is not good. They contain high-density manganese dioxide, potassium hydroxide, water, and zinc. There’s a steel container that houses the cathode, a brass pin, and a fabric separator. Much of that is recyclable, but people don’t often realize it and throw them out.

What Are the Rules on Recycling Alkaline Batteries in the U.S.?

Did you know that alkaline batteries can be recycled? Most states don’t make it clear beyond rules that you can’t put them in your blue bin. Before the law changed in 1996, alkaline batteries also contained mercury. Thankfully, the federal government laws changed and mercury levels in alkaline batteries dropped more than 99%.

These are the rules on recycling single-use batteries in each state, though most don’t have them. Even if your state lacks any alkaline battery recycling rules, these batteries can still be recycled through federal programs and several retailer and manufacturer battery recycling programs.

  • Alabama – None
  • Alaska – None
  • Arizona – None
  • Arkansas – State laws are in effect
  • California – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • Colorado – None
  • Connecticut – State laws are in effect
  • Delaware – None
  • Florida – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • Georgia – None
  • Hawaii – State laws are in effect
  • Idaho – None
  • Illinois – None
  • Indiana – State laws are in effect
  • Iowa – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • Kansas – None
  • Kentucky – State laws are in effect
  • Louisiana – State laws are in effect
  • Maine – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • Maryland – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • Massachusetts – None
  • Michigan – None
  • Minnesota – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • Mississippi – State laws are in effect
  • Missouri – None
  • Montana – None
  • Nebraska – None
  • Nevada – None
  • New Hampshire – State laws are in effect
  • New Jersey – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • New Mexico – State laws are in effect
  • New York – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • North Carolina – State laws are in effect 
  • North Dakota – State laws are in effect 
  • Ohio – None
  • Oklahoma – None
  • Oregon – None
  • Pennsylvania – State laws are in effect
  • Rhode Island – None
  • South Carolina – State laws are in effect 
  • South Dakota – State laws are in effect
  • Tennessee – None
  • Texas – State laws are in effect 
  • Utah – State laws are in effect
  • Vermont – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • Virginia – State laws are in effect
  • Washington – Producer/manufacturer responsibility
  • West Virginia – State laws are in effect
  • Wisconsin – State laws are in effect
  • Wyoming – State laws are in effect

The individual state laws on battery recycling vary, but for most, they apply to alkaline batteries that were made before 1996. Before 1996, alkaline batteries contained mercury. They cannot be put in a landfill or incinerated. Older alkaline batteries must go to hazardous waste. Again, even if it says newer alkaline batteries can go into the trash, there are better ways to dispose of these batteries and protect the environment.

What Happens When an Alkaline Battery Is Recycled?

To understand how a battery is recycled, it helps to know how it works. You have the steel container, which is the small metal shell that forms the shape of the battery. The inside of that shell is coated with the cathode mix, which is a powder containing manganese dioxide and conductors. 

Paper (separator) is put over the cathode mixture to keep it away from the anode (a potassium hydroxide electrolyte and powdered zinc. In the middle of this is a brass pin connected to the battery’s metal base. There’s also the metal top. When it’s inserted into an electrical device, it completes the circuit and allows the zinc and electrolyte to react and produce energy.

All of these can impact the environment if they make it into the air, soil, or water. 

  • Brass – Brass itself isn’t dangerous, but the mining process to get raw materials harms the environment.
  • Manganese Dioxide – High quantities can impact respiration in aquatic animals.
  • Potassium Hydroxide – In the water and soil, it increases the pH. A higher pH impacts certain plants and beneficial bacteria. A high pH in water can kill certain organisms.
  • Steel – Steel has to be mined, and that mining process is almost 7% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced around the world. It’s estimated that it accounts for about 30% of greenhouse emissions.
  • Zinc – High levels of zinc can get into the soil and groundwater. While zinc is an essential nutrient, high levels of zinc dust can cause an illness known as metal fume fever. It can also cause anemia, nervous system disorders, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting if the exposure levels are very high.

At a battery recycling center like ERI, the alkaline batteries are separated from other types of batteries. Once they’re separated, they’re crushed and travel down a conveyor belt to pull the steel casings from the powder. Zinc and manganese are converted into pellets that can be used for new batteries or plant fertilizer. The steel casings can be melted down and reused for new steel items.

How Can You Recycle Them?

Much of this depends on how many alkaline batteries you have. If you have a couple of alkaline batteries, it’s easier to bring them to a retailer like Ace Hardware or Home Depot. Businesses need better solutions. ERI provides alkaline battery recycling solutions for businesses that protect the environment and help you make a difference in the world.

ERI specializes in battery recycling of all kinds, including button-cell, mercury, lithium-ion, and alkaline. If you have a large quantity of alkaline batteries to recycle, let us know. We’ll help you determine the best way to recycle the batteries you have. Email or call us to learn more about ERI’s battery recycling service.