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How & Why to Re-Cycle Batteries. Remember, Toys Have Batteries Too

Updated on December 15, 2019
A battery re-cycling bin
A battery re-cycling bin
These batteries - 3 dead and 1 corroded - were in the toy helicopter
These batteries - 3 dead and 1 corroded - were in the toy helicopter
This toy controller's terminals were corroded because of the above battery.
This toy controller's terminals were corroded because of the above battery.

Battery Removal

We are always being reminded, when storing items for winter, to remove any batteries from grass cutters, weed whackers, chainsaws, hedge clippers and etc. This is especially so in Canada, where ‘winter’ isn’t just the title of a season, but is a synonym for ‘Friggin’ Freezin’. The reason for the battery removal is because the deep freeze can damage the batteries which in turn will damage the equipment.

It is tempting to think that once you’ve removed the above batteries that you can settle back with a beer or a glass of wine, but you have other batteries to consider. You have to think of the in-house batteries; the ones in flashlights, laptops, remote controls, cameras, and….Toys. Consider the toys that Santa dropped down the chimney; they were played to exhaustion for a week or so, but you can guarantee that 90% of them won’t be played with again for months.

It is recommended that you remove the batteries from items that won’t be getting used for a few months. Duracell suggest that you keep the batteries in a safe, dry environment, out of the reach of children. The firm states that there is no need to store their batteries in a refrigerator, and as long as they are in a safe, dry place, they should last for up to 5 years.

The reason for removing batteries is because they can corrode, damaging the equipment they were powering. It is easy to see when a battery is corroded, not only will one end of the battery have a white powdery covering, but the terminal to the apparatus may also have the same white powder. The powdery substance is acidic, and when cleaning the terminal, care must be taken to keep the powder away from your eyes. The battery is now trash----but do throw it into the garbage.

Rechargeable batteries eventually die out and corrode, but single-use batteries are the ones that die out most often. When the battery dies out, whether single-use or rechargeable, it is now scrap----but do NOT throw it into the garbage. Do NOT even throw it into your recycling bin.

Whether corroded or run down, the batteries aren’t completely dead. Perhaps the batteries can’t power the toy helicopter any longer, but they still have an electrical charge, and are still dangerous.

This re-cycling bin is in Staples
This re-cycling bin is in Staples

Start a fire with a battery

The reason for not throwing batteries into the trashcan is twofold. If the battery goes into the trashcan it ends up in the landfill, and leaks lithium, nickel, cadmium and mercury into the soil. Most of the common single-use alkaline batteries, such as AA, or AAA, are manufactured from steel, zinc and manganese, and no longer contain mercury which makes them less of a danger to the environment. But millions of batteries contain lithium, mercury, lead-acid, or nickel-cadmium, which are extremely toxic. If these batteries are dumped in a landfill, they will leach their poisons into the water table, poisoning our streams and rivers – and guess where our drinking water comes from?

You’ll read lots of articles, online and in magazines, telling you not to throw batteries in your garbage. Instead, you should be re-cycling the batteries in order to save the planet for future generations. That is NOT the immediate reason for not trashing batteries.

The principal reason is for your own safety. Trashed batteries can burn your house down.

Log on to the net and enter ‘how to start a fire with a battery,’ and you will find pages and pages, telling you how to start a fire with a battery and - a paperclip, aluminium foil, wire, steel wool, staple, and any other metal object.

Try for example, and you’ll see what I mean.

The thing is that not only can you purposely set a fire with a battery and any of the above mentioned objects; it can also be done accidentally. All that it needs is for both terminals to be connected and the battery will short circuit, causing an electrical current. Not only can this current melt the battery, if this short circuit happens beside something combustible, you will have flames. If there are any metal objects in your garbage as you throw the batteries away, you may burn your house down.

There is an even greater chance of an accidental fire if you dispose of your batteries in your re-cycle bin – there are certain to be metal objects in your re-cycling.

Don't tape batteries together
Don't tape batteries together
And don't tie them together
And don't tie them together
Dispose of the batteries singly
Dispose of the batteries singly
Cover the + (Positive) end with tape
Cover the + (Positive) end with tape

Prepare Batteries for Re-Cycling

For your sake and your children’s, the safest thing to do with spent or corroded batteries is to take them to your nearest battery re-cycling center and they will show where that is. But again, it isn’t simply a matter of taking the batteries and dumping them in the stores recycling bin – unless you plan to burn the store down, that is.

The batteries, even the single-use alkaline batteries, should never be disposed of in bundles. As mentioned earlier, even ‘dead’ batteries have ‘life’ in them, and grouping those together combines the charge in all the batteries, which could result in supposedly spent batteries becoming a danger. Not only that, you are going to be dropping those batteries into a bin full of ‘dead’ batteries. Metal to metal / battery to battery – a synonym for short-circuit.

Do not tape or tie the batteries together. The batteries should be disposed of singly.

Make an accidental short circuit even more unlikelyby taping over the + (positive) end of the battery.

The safest way to get rid of those iffy batteries is to put them back into their original packaging – but who keeps original battery packs, apart from me?

If these safety precautions seem over the top for you, go ahead and throw the battery in the garbage – by the way, have you checked the battery in your smoke alarm?

Smoke Detector Warning

Warning: on the subject of smoke detectors - rechargeable batteries are not recommended for smoke detectors.

Rechargeable batteries have a high ‘self-discharge’ rate Nickel-Metal Hydride rechargeable batteries lose 20% of their power on the first day and thereafter lose 4% per day. The same ‘self-discharge’ rate applies to Nickel-Cadmium rechargeables, with a loss thereafter of 10% of power monthly.

Also, rechargeable batteries have the ability to go from ‘live’ to ‘dead’ very quickly. So quickly in fact, that your smoke detector’s ‘low battery’ signal will not be set off, and you will be unaware that your smoke detector is currently useless.

You could fit a lithium battery, which can last for 7 years – by which time you will have forgotten the smoke detector needs batteries. It is recommended that you fit normal everyday alkaline batteries.

And – choose a day to change the battery every year; perhaps do what Australia does – change the smoke detector batteries every April 1st. You’d be foolish not to!


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