Lets Waste Less Blog

November 2020: Don't bin your batteries



It’s Christmas Day and all the nice shiny new toys and electrical items are unwrapped and for once you have remembered the batteries. But what do you do with batteries once they have died? Put them in your black bin? Take them to a recycling point in a shop? Put them in your green bin?

Only one of those is the correct way to get rid of batteries – taking them to a recycling point.

660 million batteries bought each year in the UK, that’s an average of 21 per household. Brits spend nearly £5 million each week on batteries, yet 98% of them are not recycled and end up in landfills.

When taken to landfills, most batteries release harmful metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium into the environment causing soil contamination and water pollution. The incineration of batteries can also cause air pollution. Battery waste can endanger wildlife and is potentially hazardous to humans.

The Environmental Services Association recently launched a campaign to make people more aware of what happens to their dead batteries and the damage they could cause. Dead batteries thrown away with other waste and recycling,  and referred to as “zombie batteries”, are likely to be crushed or punctured once the waste is collected and processed. Some battery types in particular, like lithium-ion (Li-ion) and nickel-metal Hydride (NiMH), can ignite or even explode when they’re damaged.

Once this happens, the batteries can set fire to other materials present in the waste, like paper, leading to serious incidents in some cases that can put lives at risk.

Although safe to use normally, lithium-ion batteries are most prone to causing fires or explosions if they are not recycled properly. These batteries are typically found in laptops, tablets, mobile phones, radio-controlled toys, Bluetooth devices, shavers, electric toothbrushes, power tools, scooters and even e-cigarettes.  Lithium-ion batteries are increasingly prevalent in a range of devices (particularly those charged by USB), so this problem is likely to get worse in future without consumer behaviour change.

In Worcestershire there are no kerbside collections of batteries, but Wychavon residents are able to put their batteries in a bag on top of their black bin and they will take them away for recycling. This is the only district council that offers this enhanced service. Other residents will need to take batteries to either a supermarket or any shop that sells them or their local Household Recycling Service.

As an alternative, perhaps you could consider rechargeable batteries, which are less harmful to the environment because they reduce the total number of batteries manufactured and entering the waste stream. Aside from pollution, the manufacture and transport of disposal batteries impacts negatively on the environment. Rechargeable batteries have up to 28 times less impact on the environment than alkaline batteries and 30 times less impact on ozone pollution. Switching to rechargeable batteries is not only greener, but also more cost effective; 500 disposable AA batteries cost £380, whereas a charger and 2 batteries costs less than £10 and can be recharged approximately 500 times.

For more information about battery recycling visit Take Charge (opens in a new window). To find out where your nearest Household Recycling Centre is or how to reduce your waste further visit Lets Waste Less.