Dry cell batteries such as alkaline, lithium, lithium-ion, metal hydride, mercuric oxide, nickel-cadmium, silver oxide, and zinc-air batteries power many products in the workplace. They can be found in flashlights, power tools, hand-held vacuum cleaners, portable equipment, and countless other items.
But what do you do with them once they’re not useable? You can’t just throw them away, but batteries (especially rechargeable lithium-ion batteries) have been known to start fires when stored improperly. Businesses, including schools, institutions, governments, and other “non-households,” must make a waste determination on their used batteries. In most cases, used batteries must be recycled as a universal waste or otherwise managed as a hazardous waste.
Manage batteries as universal waste
Dry cell batteries can be managed as universal wastes. That means you must store them in a safe manner until they are ready to be sent for recycling. You can reduce the risk of fire by covering the battery ends with clear packing tape and storing them in a sturdy non-metal leakproof container with a lid.
You can sort the batteries by type, or you can place different types of batteries together.
You must label the container with the words “Universal Waste – Batteries,” “Waste Batteries,” or “Used Batteries.” You must also mark the date you began collecting the batteries on the label.
The container must be closed at all times unless you are adding or removing waste. If you notice the container is damaged or leaking, you must move the batteries to a new container.
Generally, you have up to a year to collect used batteries before you must send them offsite for recycling.
Household battery waste
In most states, private households may throw dry cell batteries into the trash. But it’s not an environmentally friendly thing to do. Some states require even private households to recycle batteries. Check to see if your state has a manufacturer or retailer battery take-back program. Your state may also provide a list of battery recyclers in your area.
Throwing certain batteries in the trash or curbside recycling bins can put garbage collectors and workers at collection sites at risk because of the potential to catch fire. Households can store used batteries in plastic buckets or other sturdy, leakproof containers and bring them to a household hazardous waste site or special collection.
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