Whenever I see someone toss batteries of any kind into a garbage bin, I cringe. Not just because all those chemicals, metals, plastics, and other materials can end up poisoning our planet, pets, and people, but recycling them returns many of those materials into raw materials. The metals can be turned into anything from pots and pans to bicycles and even golf clubs. It also reduces the impact of mining for new materials by reducing demand. Reduction in our need for new materials, in turn, creates less waste and impact on the planet.
The batteries we have the most control over where they end up are the ones that we use every day. We find them in toys, game controllers, remotes, and our flashlights. There are also ones that sit on computer motherboards and in our hearing aids too. Our smartphones and tablets are also part of the equation.
So, what can be recycled? Are there any quick tips on storing them safely as we collect them? And where can we take them in Canada after they are past their useful life? Those are great questions that we will be answering.
These are the most common batteries in any household. They power toys, remote controls, flashlights and more. Most alkaline batteries come in all sorts of sizes from AAAA to D. The larger lantern batteries too.
Then there are lithium-ion batteries. These are the button cell batteries for hearing aids, watches, and key fobs for your car. This technology is also found in some select battery sizes like AA and AAA. You can tell the difference between the two by their weight. A lithium-ion cell is usually a lot lighter than its alkaline counterpart.
These types of batteries, and their different form factors, can be recycled.
Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) is used in the rechargeable batteries you can find at any electronics store. Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries are rarer these days, but you might still come across them. You’ll find them in a similar range of sizes to alkaline batteries, making them an excellent environmentally conscious choice. As technology advances, the cost difference between rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries has most certainly come down. They also have good energy density and can be charged hundreds of times.
If you are starting to notice some batteries not charging or not holding a charge, it could be time to let them go. However, there are chargers on the market that can re-condition them. This allows you to resurrect seemingly dead ones, so if you have a bunch of these in a bin that you’re not sure about, it might be worth trying to get them back into action with a charger that has this function. My favourite is one made by a company called Maha Powerex. It accommodates the most common sizes, including AA/AAA/C/D sizes. I’ve had a similar model for many years, and it’s resurrected enough batteries that it has paid for itself a few times over.
All of these batteries can be recycled when they are finally past their useful life.
If your tablet or smartphone has a removable battery, which is becoming rarer, then those can be taken out and recycled easily. Dyson vacuums, iRobot Roombas, and other appliances and electronics with removable batteries can all be recycled in similar facilities. This is the same with power tools, older laptops, cordless phones, and other rechargeable battery devices. Even small sealed lead-acid batteries, like the ones that come in small mobility scooters, alarm systems, or that come from any number of computer power backup devices, are also acceptable for recycling. Batteries from a car, however, are not. You’ll have to check with an automotive dealer or garage.
If your device has a built-in battery, like a smartphone or tablet, some facilities can take the entire device. Because we don’t want to retire a device before its time, you may want to check out a battery replacement for that device. You can take it to a place like UbreakIFix, or you can even do it yourself with the right tools, a new battery, and the guidance of a site such as iFixit. This can save you a few dollars, and you might learn that you’re much handier than you think.
These can all be recycled in Canada at participating facilities. Please note that there might be Federal Laws and regulations that compel the company that manufactured your device to take ownership of recycling in Canada. You can find out more right here.
Once you’ve gathered up your depleted batteries, regardless of where they came from or their form factor, there are some things you need to do to prepare them for storage both before and during transport.
Batteries should be stored in plastic bags. Some batteries, like alkaline and lead-acid types, can leak. It looks like the stuff you see on an old electronic device once you open the battery compartment. Ensure you wash your hands if you come into contact with them or wear gloves.
It would help if you also taped the battery terminals with duct tape or packing tape. Other types of tape like masking tape or painter’s tape are made to be removed easily, which means it might fall off during handling. So, stick to kinds that stay stuck. Once you’ve got everything bagged and taped, store your batteries in a cool and dark place till it’s time to take them in for recycling.
It does take a bit more work than putting out the blue or green bin on recycling day, but we think it’s worth it.
Over the last number of years, organizations like the Retail Council of Canada and Call2Recycle have put out a call to action to retailers to help become places that batteries could be taken for recycling. You may have seen these boxes at your local Best Buy, London Drugs, and Staples. The list of partners continues to expand.
Call2Recycle has a handy website that helps you find partners near you. Just put in your postal code on their locator page, and it’ll show you who’s taking them in. Please keep in mind that the information might not be 100% accurate due to local laws and regulations regarding COVID-19 restrictions. If you do plan to venture out, stay safe, and call ahead to confirm hours and whether drop-off is still available. As long as you’ve stored them correctly, you should be OK till regulations loosen up.
The types of batteries taken for recycling and information are constantly evolving to meet consumer needs. If there are questions that you didn’t get an answer to in this piece, make sure you check out Call2Recycle’s FAQ page.
We hope you found this information useful. If there are any questions, definitely feel free to join in on the conversation in the comment area below. We’d love to hear from you.