Batteries may contain harmful metals and chemicals such as nickel cadmium, alkaline, mercury, nickel metal hydride and lead acid, which can contaminate the environment if not disposed properly. For example, when batteries containing cadmium is used in landfills, they will eventually dissolve and release the toxic substance that can seep into water supplies, posing serious health hazards for the population. This is why recycling batteries has become so important because it helps prevent pollution, and also saves resources.
The Recycling Process:
First of all, the batteries to be recycled are sorted according to chemistries such as nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride, lithium, alkaline etc. The combustible material, such as plastics and insulation, is then removed with a gas fired thermal oxidizer, which is the first step in the recycling process. Most recycling plants have scrubbers where the gases from the thermal oxidizer are neutralized to remove pollutants, producing clean, naked cells that contain precious metal content.
The metal in the batteries are then heated to liquefy, after they have been hacked into little pieces. Black slag left by burned out non-metallic substances are scraped off with a slag arm, and the different alloys that settle according to weight are skimmed off. Some plants pour the liquid metals directly into (65 pounds) or ‘hogs’ (2000 pounds) without separating on site, which are then shipped to metal recovery plants to produce nickel, chromium and iron re-melt alloy for the manufacturing of other metal products.
State and Federal Regulations in the United States:
The Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act was passed in 1996 by the U.S. Congress which needs regulated batteries such as Ni-CD batteries and sealed lead-acid batteries to:
- be easily removable from consumer products to make it easier to recover them for recycling
- include in the label the battery chemistry, the “three chasing arrows” symbol, and a phrase that instructs users to properly recycle or dispose the battery
- provide national uniformity in collection, storage, and transport
- phase out the use of certain mercury-containing batteries
The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC):
The United States Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) was set up in 1994 as a non-profit, public service organization to help and promote the recycling of portable rechargeable batteries such as Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion), and Small Sealed Lead. It also educates rechargeable power users about the benefits and accessibility of rechargeable battery recycling. However, RBRC only recycles batteries that has RBRC Battery Recycling Seal. Manufacturers, marketers and collectors or rechargeable batteries or products that use them can contact RBRC at “[email protected]” for better solutions.
The mercury reduction in batteries, which had already started in 1984, is still continued today. For example, batteries such as those containing alkaline have had about a 97 percent mercury reduction, and newer models may contain about one-tenth the amount of mercury previously contained in the typical alkaline battery, or may be zero-added mercury. A number of mercury-free, heavy-duty, carbon-zinc batteries are now available as alternatives. Technology such as silver-oxide and zinc-air button batteries contain less mercury so they are starting to replace mercuric-oxide batteries. Nickel-cadmium batteries can be reprocessed to reclaim the nickel, and cadmium free nickel and nickel-hydride system are also being researched. At present, most nickel-cadmium batteries are permanently sealed in appliances but changes are being made in regulations which will result in a more convenient retrieval and recycling of nickel-cadmium batteries.