Recycling Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-Ion batteries (image via Pixabay).

Lithium-ion batteries are popular and practical because they are rechargeable. They power devices such as mobile phones, tablets, laptops, receiver collars for wireless pet fences, and some power tools. Even electric vehicles run on lithium batteries. Simply plug into an electrical outlet – and in a few hours, you have a fully charged device.

But here’s the thing: today’s devices purposely do not last forever. They are meant to be disposed of once the lithium-ion batteries degrade to failure threshold. Unfortunately, throwing away the device, and the components within, poses an ever-increasing waste problem for our precious planet.

Ways for You To Help Recycle Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-Ion BatteriesAccording to updated recycling statistics, it’s estimated that the global human population will reach 8.5 billion by 2030. As more advanced technology becomes available, a larger percentage of people will utilize lithium-battery-powered gadgets. The more people, the more gadgets that will eventually need to be disposed.

Fortunately, lithium-ion batteries contain fewer toxic metals than other types of batteries. These metals (i.e., copper, iron, nickel, and cobalt) are deemed safe for incinerators and landfills. Because of this, lithium-ion batteries are classified as non-hazardous waste.  

However, extracting the recyclable elements from lithium-ion batteries requires special processes, chemicals, and equipment not available to the normal household. The goal is to repurpose and reuse before ending up in a landfill. The following tips help streamline the recycling process. 

Do not disassemble the device.

Most devices have lithium-ion batteries built into them. For safety’s sake, do not disassemble devices to remove the batteries. The introduction of outside elements could trigger a reaction that can harm you, your household, or even small pets. Thus, disassembling electronic devices should only be done by professionals.

Take devices to the manufacturer.Lithium-Ion Batteries

The best way to ensure that devices are properly recycled is to take them to the manufacturer. Check out if there is a local service center or outlet specifically for your device brand and if there is a recycling program. For example, Apple provides a simple but rewarding in-store recycling program. If Apple determines the trade-in item is still usable, you will receive a gift card.

Visit a service center or repair shop.

If the brand doesn’t have a local outlet or offer a recycling program, there’s still another option. Take the device to an electronics service center or repair shop. Some of these establishments even pay you for your used gadgets. They safely disassemble the gadgets and use the components (including lithium-ion batteries, LCD screens, keypads, diodes, etc.) as spare parts to repair other devices.

Go to a chain appliance or home center store.

Appliance or home center chains often accept used gadgets for recycling. Some also offer rewards such as discount coupons, gift cards, or freebies. For example, Best Buy, the largest U.S. electronics retailer, distributes gift cards for used electronic devices via its trade-in program (which sent over a billion pounds of e-waste to recycling processes in 2017). The Staples chain also offers e-waste recycling. Having collected over 16.5 million tons of electronics, Staples is recognized as a certified e-Stewards Recycler.

Attend a hazardous materials/ e-waste collection event.

Lithium-Ion BatteriesCheck out your local and county websites for information on upcoming hazardous materials and/or e-waste collection events.  This is also an opportunity to dispose of used alkaline batteries, old household electronics and out-of-date computer equipment. Meanwhile, make sure to keep those dead alkaline batteries in a closed container away from children and small pets.

Turn in devices to your local recycling center.

Many times there are no establishments nearby that accept used electronics. If that is the case,  take your used gadgets and/or lithium-ion batteries to a local recycling center. They have the right equipment and processes to effectively recycle these items.

Industrial Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Processes

There are several processes that the recycling industry uses to physically recycle and repurpose used lithium-ion batteries. Here are some of the most common:

Pyrometallurgical Recovery

This method involves the use of high-temperature to reduce the metal oxides in the battery and fuses them into an alloy. It is also possible to add other kinds of batteries to the furnace, boosting the smelting efficiency. The result is a slag of molten metal or alloy, which can be refined further or added to cement as a strengthening compound. The simplicity of the process makes pyrometallurgical recovery the most commercially established and common recycling method. 

Hydrometallurgical Metals Reclamation

This more complex process uses aqueous solutions to extract the metals from the battery’s cathode. Most commonly, the battery is leached with sulfuric acid. Precipitation reactions then extract the metals. This alters the pH level of the solution. This process requires a large amount of reagent or solvent. In addition, it’s fairly expensive due to the high cost of leach neutralization.

Direct RecyclingLithium-Ion Batteries

This method involves physically removing the anode (or cathode) from the battery’s electrode and reconditioning it. This includes the replenishment of new lithium. The anode or cathode is then repurposed in a brand new battery. Direct recycling is cost-effective, fast, and does not require expensive purification methods. The drawback, however, is that the condition of the new battery is dependent on the condition of the used battery. For example, if the old battery has a very low state of charge, then the new battery may not be as “healthy.” In addition, as new battery technologies emerge, direct recycling may be rendered obsolete.

Do your part.

Lithium-Ion BatteriesLithium-ion batteries are quite revolutionary. They are rechargeable which allows us to save money, lessen waste, and move mobile technology forward. However, things don’t last forever, even rechargeable batteries. By starting at home, we can help fight against our world’s ever-increasing waste problem.

*     *     *     *     *

Lillian Connors, Guest Contributor

Lithium-Ion BatteriesLillian Connors is a Senior Content Developer at ACTenviro, a nationally recognized environmental and hazardous waste management firm. She writes to provide valuable information regarding recycling efforts. Lillian cherishes green practices. She believes that sustainability helps us to live and do business independently while contributing to the well-being of our planet. When not seeking to improve her surroundings, Lillian likes to lose herself in a good book and occasionally sip on an appletini.

Images via and NorthStar Moving.