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How To Recycle Batteries Safely and Sustainably in the UK

recycling batteries

Have you got a few batteries lying around the house that need recycling? Yes, me too! I’ve got a tub full of batteries waiting to be recycled.  

Most gadgets and household items like TV remotes and wall clocks rely on batteries to source their energy. And while we’re increasingly using chargers to re-power our electronics, such as phones and headphones, it’s safe to say that batteries are not going out of style anytime soon.

But how do you dispose of your batteries once they run out of power?

You probably already know that you shouldn’t put used batteries in your rubbish bin. But what other options are there if you want to get rid of batteries sustainably?

Here’s all you need to know about how to recycle batteries in the UK!

What are batteries made of and how do they work?

A battery is a device that allows for chemical energy to be stored within it. With this it then functions as a convenient and portable tool for generating electrical energy.

It’s no surprise that batteries have gradually become an integral part of the modern world since their invention in the 1800s!

The core mechanic of how batteries work has remained the same throughout: An electrolyte, an anode and a cathode, are stored in a steel casing to create a current of energy, which is the product of a chemical reaction.

This reaction is made possible by the chemicals used at the anode (the negative terminal) and the cathode (the positive terminal). Most commonly we see lithium and metals like nickel for cathodes, and zinc or aluminium for anodes.

The electrolyte that is stored between the positive and negative terminals, on the other hand, consists of a solution of acids or soluble salts.

Both the battery electrolyte and the heavy metals used as anodes and cathodes are considered hazardous materials, and batteries are categorised as electronic waste.

Why shouldn’t you throw away batteries?

As hazardous waste and e-waste, both single-use and rechargeable batteries should not be thrown away in your general waste bin.

The heavy metal content of batteries, which often includes manganese, zinc, copper, lithium, and even lead, makes them the worst candidate for the landfill.

Heavy metal contamination is associated with not only persistent soil degradation but also with increased pollution as these metals can impact the biodegradability of organic pollutants.

In addition to that, when batteries begin to break down in the landfill, leakage can impact the health of workers and contribute to waterway pollution.

The most common types of batteries and their metals

Not all batteries are the same and not all batteries contain the same metals. This being said, you’ll have a hard time finding out what types of metals household-name manufacturers use.

Alkaline batteries are the ones that come to mind when picturing a conventional battery. These are single-use and affordable. 

An alkaline battery contains zinc and manganese dioxide. They have about half the shelf life of lithium batteries. 

Lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, are rechargeable and mainly used for smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices. In today’s electronic vehicle age, it’s lithium-ion batteries that are used in electric cars, electric bikes and e-scooters.

These batteries most commonly contain lithium cobalt oxide, nickel and graphite.

The only sustainable and safe way to dispose of all these heavy metals is recycling, so if you want to know how to recycle batteries, keep reading!

How to recycle batteries in the UK

When it comes to disposing of dead or expired batteries, safety is the most important thing.

As a general rule of thumb, you should always make sure to use a separate bag or empty tub to store your used batteries until you can take them to your local recycling point.

There are no types of batteries that can be accepted via household recycling collections. It’s a case of doing your research beforehand to find out where your nearest Household Waste Recycling Centre or battery recycling collection point is.

Most likely than not, you’ll find one in your local supermarket!

You might also find that some of your local schools, town halls and libraries have also set up collection schemes.

The best course of action is to head over to an online recycling locator, type in your postcode, and find the most convenient option for your recycling needs!  

Recycling batteries by type

So, here’s how to recycle batteries in the UK, according to their type:

Alkaline batteries

Both alkaline and lithium batteries are classified as regular household batteries. The good news is that you’ll be able to recycle them at your local supermarket, electrical shop, or collection point.

The cadmium and zinc recovered through recycling will be used to create new batteries and even things such as ceramics and glass.

Lithium-ion batteries

Although rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries will eventually stop working.

You can recycle lithium-ion batteries by bringing them to your local battery recycling point. It’s important to make sure to tape up both the positive and negative terminal to reduce the risk of fire! 

Also, you should keep in mind that battery recycling bins cannot accept waste electrical devices that have batteries as part of the device. So if you’re trying to recycle a smartphone with lithium-ion batteries you’ll have to head over to a general e-waste recycling point instead!

electric car vehicle with battery

Batteries for electric vehicles

Electric vehicles like mobility scooters, e-scooters, electric bikes, and electric cars also rely on rechargeable batteries. In 99% of cases, they will feature lithium-ion batteries.

In the case of electric scooters and bikes, you’ll want to take off the battery and recycle it separately through local recycling points.

Or if you can’t get the battery out, you can contact a specialised service like Fenix Battery Recycling to take care of the whole process for you. It’s possible that e-bike and electric scooter companies may offer a takeback scheme for their lithium-ion batteries too. 

But when it comes to cars, it’s a little more complex. Electric car manufacturers are currently working on making recycling schemes more accessible, but there’s still a long way to go.

Combating the e-waste crisis

Understanding how to recycle batteries is just the first step in doing your part to tackle the e-waste crisis.

Globally, as much as 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste are generated every year, incinerated, and their emissions released into the atmosphere.

Making sure that you’re disposing of your electronic devices in a sustainable way is more important than ever, as is opting for second-hand electronics over brand-new devices!

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