Yes, You Need to Recycle Your Old Batteries

Follow this handy guide to do right by the environment—and the law

Closeup of batteries with the recycling symbol placed over it. Photo Illustration: Getty Images

Batteries are a routine part of modern life, but despite their ubiquity, it’s not always clear what to do when they get used up or stop holding a charge. You might see conflicting information online, but according to experts, the advice is simple: When you’re done with a battery, you should recycle it.

“Whether it’s your standard alkaline AA battery, a rechargeable cell phone battery, or the battery from your car, you should treat it with care by using safe storage and disposal methods,” says James Dickerson, PhD, Consumer Reports’ chief scientific officer.

More On Recycling

Most batteries—regardless of type—contain toxic chemicals. Think cadmium, lead, lithium, or sulfuric acid. If your old batteries end up in a landfill, pollutants like these can leak out and contaminate groundwater, damage fragile ecosystems, and potentially make their way into the food chain.

Improperly thrown out batteries can even short-circuit, overheat, and cause a fire. And depending on where you live and the batteries in question, it may be illegal to put them in the trash.

There’s an added benefit, and it’s not just about pollution, either. “The materials needed to power a green energy economy are a lot of the same stuff you find in these batteries,” says Leo Raudys, CEO and president of Call2Recycle, a leading battery stewardship program. The more chemicals like nickel, lithium, and cobalt we can recover from consumer waste, the less we have to mine.

The good news, according to Raudys, is that most Americans live within a short drive of a collection point that will take the batteries that post the greatest environmental risk.

People are doing their part: Call2Recycle saw a big increase in battery recycling during the course of the pandemic, and the organization collected 8.1 million pounds of batteries in 2021.

Adding batteries to the list of products you recycle is a great way to lower your environmental footprint, and it’s easier than you think.

Here’s what you need to know.

Batteries Aren't Created Equal, but Recycle Them All Anyway

“It’s not necessary for consumers to understand every type of battery,” Raudys says. “The reality is they’re all recyclable. If it’s a battery, just recycle it and let us take care of sorting them and making sure they get dealt with in the right way.”

It’s that simple—however, the consequences of improper disposal can be a much bigger deal, depending on the battery. There are significant differences among the batteries that run a TV remote, that power your car’s starter, and everything in between.

Car batteries, rechargeable batteries (including AA, 9-volt, the one in the back of your cell phone, and the like), and even button cell watch batteries contain heavy metals and other toxic chemicals. Recycling batteries like these is often required by law. By comparison, primary batteries—those designed to be used once, such as disposable alkaline AA batteries—aren’t quite as dangerous. Mercury used to be a typical ingredient in primary batteries, but thanks to regulations in the 1990s, battery manufacturers essentially stopped using the hazardous element.

Today’s primary batteries are relatively benign, but that doesn’t mean you should just throw them away. It’s easy to get them confused with more sensitive batteries—and even alkaline batteries have recoverable materials.

Before You Recycle

When you’re collecting and storing old batteries for recycling, you should take a few precautions.

“What you shouldn’t do is take your batteries and toss them haphazardly into a bag, or store them in a metal container,” CR’s Dickerson says.

Old batteries might not generate enough energy to power a device, but they could still spark a fire if they’re not handled carefully. Store them in a secure container that keeps them lined up side-by-side, so the contact points can’t touch each other or brush up against anything that’s metallic or conductive.

If you want to store your batteries with the care of a scientist, Dickerson says, one of the safest options is to hold on to the original packing and reuse it to house the spent batteries. That’s what he does. “You can use a permanent marker to mark the old batteries so you don’t get them confused with the new ones,” he says.

When it’s time to get rid of the batteries, start by checking local ordinances. A few cities and towns will recycle any batteries for you if you just leave them in a plastic bag on top of your trashcan.

About half of states have laws mandating specific disposal methods for consumers. California is the most strict, where it’s illegal to throw a single-use battery in the trash. Many others require consumers to recycle rechargeable batteries.

For up-to-date information on the laws in your state, consult this map created by Call2Recycle

How to Find a Drop-Off Point

The website for your local government is a great place to start. Many municipalities host collection events for hazardous waste and electronics. Some also have permanent drop-off facilities.

A few states—including New York and Minnesota—require retailers that sell certain batteries to collect them for recycling. Others insist that battery manufacturers fund or organize battery collection programs. Businesses including Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Staples have electronics recycling programs that accept batteries and other e-waste at stores across the country as well. Some Best Buy locations take batteries, too.

Earth911 and Call2Recycle have tools to help locate recycling drop-off points, allowing you to search for collections by battery type. Call2Recycle says 86 percent of Americans live within 10 miles of one of its drop-off locations.

Before you head to a collection site, though, check to see if the organizers will accept the kind of battery you want to recycle.

You shouldn’t have a hard time finding a place to recycle rechargeable batteries or car batteries. Button cell batteries are often easy to get rid of, too, and some manufacturers offer mail-in recycling programs.

In some parts of the country, though, it may be difficult to recycle single-use alkaline batteries. That’s because the materials in alkaline batteries aren’t as valuable, while alkalines are also more expensive to process.

When all else fails (and if you’re particularly committed), Call2Recycle sells special boxes for batteries and some e-waste that you can ship back to them. You could even set one up in your local community and start your own mini program.

“If you can recycle your alkaline batteries, you should,” Dickerson says. “But if you’ve exhausted all your options, and there’s nowhere nearby to take them, putting them in the garbage is the last resort.”

Before you throw them in the trash, though, stick a piece of tape over the contacts. That will lower the risk of fires. Disposing of them in the original packing helps, too.


Headshot of CR editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.