It is necessary to recycle batteries because they typically contain heavy metals and other toxic materials that can pollute groundwater and present a hazard to humans and wildlife. Recycling also reclaims these materials for reuse, reducing the amount of new toxins used in manufacturing.
While there are several types of batteries, all of them produce power by reacting heavy metals with an electrolyte. In the case of lead-acid car batteries, the metal is lead, and the electrolyte is an acidic solution. Dry cell batteries use a variety of metals, including lithium, cadmium and zinc. These cells use a paste electrolyte to generate the chemical reaction necessary to produce an electric current.
Battery recycling has become less of a concern since 1997, when the federal government mandated the removal of mercury in batteries of all types. For this reason, many municipalities allow consumers to dispose of batteries using their normal trash pickup service. However, older batteries still pose a potential mercury threat, and even newer batteries contain small amounts of toxic materials that could present an environmental threat over time.
Some electronics stores, as well as the national Batteries Plus chain, accept used batteries and obsolete electronics containing rechargeable cells for recycling.