If you were to follow the lifecycle of a battery, you might be surprised to find that, ideally, you would end up right back where you started. That’s right. Batteries can be recycled. However, many people don’t know how to dispose of their used batteries. More importantly, they don’t know why they should.
Batteries contain several different metals, including nickel. Metals of all kinds can be reused indefinitely and are relatively easy to recycle. However, batteries are unlike other types of recycled materials, posing some safety and environmental risks when disposed of improperly. This is where the why of recycling batteries comes in.
Safety & Environmental Concerns
One glaring safety and environmental concern when disposing of batteries is that they can become highly flammable. This is particularly true of lithium-ion batteries. If you toss a damaged battery in the trash or recycle bin, it can cause a spark that could lead to a fire. Whether in your home or in a landfill, this poses a safety risk to anyone nearby and could lead to extensive property damage. Not to mention, a fire at a place like a landfill or recycling plant can release toxic chemicals into the air, as we saw in Indiana earlier this year.
Besides fire, certain types of batteries can leach harmful chemicals. If damaged batteries find their way into a landfill, this could mean that these chemicals could enter the soil or groundwater. Safety and environmental concerns like these highlight the necessity of disposing of batteries properly.
On the positive side (pun intended), batteries contain materials that can be recycled indefinitely. The demand for battery-powered products, including cell phones and, increasingly, electric vehicles (EVs), is growing and helping realize green initiatives. Creating a circular economy around batteries is imperative to meeting these demands. That brings us to how we recycle batteries.
Recycled batteries must first be sorted by type. Once this process is done, they must be broken apart to expose the components of the battery. Most batteries are mechanically separated using a shredder or hammer mill. Once the contents are exposed, they are then submerged in water. The metals sink, and the plastics float, making it easier to extract the different components for further processing. In the case of most metals, the materials are dried and then introduced to heat to extract the minerals – a process called smelting – and prepare them for use in manufacturing new batteries.
So, what do we do with our used batteries? Well, here at Eagle Mine, batteries of all sorts are collected at various points across both sites and brought to a staging area where they wait for pickup by an outside waste handler. In our case, we use OSI. The batteries are taken to the OSI facility in Marquette, MI, and sorted, packaged, and prepped for shipment to Creative Metals Group in Chicago, IL. From there, depending on the type or battery, they are shipped worldwide for processing.
Several companies in the United States are trying to create that circular economy and establish more processing end sites here at home. For example, Recycle 906 in Marquette County of Michigan follows a similar trajectory to Eagle, where sorting happens locally, and the batteries are shipped out for further processing. Recycle 906 uses Cirba Solutions based in Wixom, MI. From there, much of the materials are sorted and prepped for processing head to end sites in Ohio and other locations in the United States.
Recycling in Marquette County
In Marquette County, you can collect your used batteries in clear plastic bags (like sandwich bags) or plastic containers. For an added safety measure, tape off the battery terminals with duct tape or electrical tape. However, leave the battery type visible so that they can be properly sorted. When you’re ready, bring the used batteries you’ve collected to one of the drop-off sites listed here. If you’re not local to Marquette County, you can contact your local recycling service and find out if you can recycle batteries and get a list of drop-off sites near you.
Last year, Eagle Mine announced its partnership with Michigan Technological University to develop responsible and sustainable methods of recycling and reusing batteries. This is in a nationwide effort to strengthen domestic battery manufacturing to meet demand. If the efficiency of the extraction of these critical minerals from used batteries continues to improve, it will mean a clear stride forward in the proliferation of affordable low-emission vehicles. Whether it’s a AA battery or an EV battery, the future is bright for safe and sustainable recycling.