By: Maura Keller
As battery engineering and technology continue to evolve, the safety of battery recycling is top of mind for many recycling companies.
According to Andrew Weins, chief operating officer of JDog Junk Removal & Hauling Unlimited, looking back 20 years, landfills used to take all kinds of materials including batteries, and there really was no process or safety protocol in place for how to handle their proper disposal.
“Landfills are not supposed to take hazardous batteries, but we haven’t seen many effective processes to ensure they do not end up in the landfill,” Weins said. “Over the past decade, there’s been a huge increase in portable electronic devices on the market that require hazardous rechargeable lithium batteries, ultimately causing them to be discarded. This has been an impetus for change in the industry. To help keep up, the technology used to recycle batteries has become more advanced so that less energy is used to restore batteries and they can be used again.”
As Weins explained, the industry knows that rechargeable batteries contain a number of chemicals including cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, lithium and electrolytes.
“When the batteries end up in landfills they start to break down and release these chemicals, which end up in landfill leakage,” Weins said.
Different batteries can be more volatile than others. Rechargeable batteries almost always contain nickel cadmium, which, according to the EPA, can leach into the soil, water, and air in landfills or incinerators. This leakage can affect the water table or eventually reach the ocean. Additionally, lithium reacts in a volatile way when exposed.
Safety has become a very big issue for batteries. As Gary Casola, technical sales specialist at Aircycle, Inc. a TerraCycle company explained, in the last decade much more attention has been given to the proper insulation of batteries at the generator’s facility.
“The emphasis has been put on making sure each and every battery is insulated and is placed into a container that has been labeled with the type of battery in that container,” Casola said. “The industry recyclers know, as do the transporters of batteries, that trucks must carry the proper placarding and the batteries are to be packaged properly in insulating terminals.”
For example, lead acid batteries should be palletized using a thin card board insulation between the layers of batteries and then stretch wrap around the batteries to secure them along with banding them to the pallet.
Karin Harris, chief executive officer of eGreen IT Solutions believes there are better guidelines and awareness of the dangers within the different types of batteries that weren’t realized in the past.
“The chemistry of batteries is changing to make the handling much safer,” Harris said.
While that may be true, according to Weins, the safety protocol for battery recycling has largely stayed the same. The EPA started its Call2Recycle program in 1994, outside of the restrictions of where and who can dispose of them.
The batteries should still be sorted by type – non-hazardous (alkaline, carbon zinc, zinc-air), hazardous (lithium/lithium ion, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, sealed lead acid), and those banned from most landfills (mercury oxide, lead acid vehicle batteries).
“Waste and recycling companies must pay close attention and recognize which batteries they have to ensure they’re sorted safely on the front end,” Weins said. “To follow this important safety protocol, at our warehouse we have crates for different battery types and electronic devices.”
A common mistake that Weins sees people make when it comes to battery recycling is not taking the time to fully assess the state of batteries before disposing of them.
“Owning a junk removal business, we come across batteries on each and every residential and commercial job,” Weins said. “Something we do that many waste and recycling companies don’t – when we take batteries out of items, like remotes, tools, or toys, we see if they’re damaged or punctured in any way.”
Once a battery is compromised, it’s considered hazardous and requires special handling. “We get the battery into sand or kitty litter as soon as possible,” Weins said. “These batteries then have to be bagged or boxed before going to a certified e-waste recycler.”
Isaac Weins, director of training at JDog Junk Removal & Hauling United said that he and his team have also heard of situations where companies leverage a third party to specifically handle the recycling of batteries and electronic devices, but don’t take the time to fully vet the vendor.
“If the third-party is not certified as an e-waste recycler and they get caught for improper handling of materials, you could get fined for providing these items to them,” Isaac Weins said. “It’s important to take the time to make sure the person or company is reputable and has the appropriate paperwork to prove certification. Without this criteria, they’re not legally allowed to handle batteries and other materials that could be hazardous.”
In addition, Harris said she commonly sees poor packaging and recycling companies not taping the leads and storing the batteries longer than what is permitted (normally one year).
“Proper storage of different battery chemistries and types and keeping battery chemistries separated upon receipt at the processing facility is paramount,” Casola said. “Also educating the generator to separate battery types and chemistries and using a different container for collecting each type of battery is good education and information to provide.”
The biggest factor in improving the proper disposal of batteries is consumer education and making sure people put things in the right place to begin with. As Isaac Weins explained, batteries are so commonly used today but many consumers are unaware that even some small AAA batteries cannot be thrown away in the garbage because a fire may results due to improper handling.
“If consumers knew about the serious dangers associated with improper battery disposal, there would be immediate improvements in the recycling process,” Isaac Weins said.
“We see continued technological advancements when it comes to the process for recycling batteries. There will be less energy used and the materials required to produce batteries will improve, which will make the entire process more efficient. In the long term, an increase in the use of rechargeable batteries could result in fewer batteries needing to be recycled.”
With batteries being one of the fastest growing waste streams due to the Internet of Things, Harris believes the industry will see stricter regulations especially with transportation of batteries to be recycled.
“On the other hand, I believe as we evolve, the chemistry involved will include safer elements that will make batteries less hazardous to handle and recycle,” Harris said. “One of the problems we are going to have with recycling of batteries is that more items are being made with the battery imbedded and there are no automated ways to have these items taken apart to remove the battery before disposal.”
Because much attention is given to the proper insulation of all battery chemistries, Casola said batteries received at most recycling facilities are already prepared for safe storage while awaiting processing.
Recycling facilities that are receiving batteries must immediately insulate terminals on batteries or process them right away. Should the recycling facility be sending certain battery chemistries downstream to another processor, those facilities must make sure that the batteries are properly packaged and insulated.
“Every generator of batteries should be advised by the company managing their batteries as to proper packaging and insulation of all battery chemistries,” Casola said. “Providing this information to generators of batteries will help guide in the proper storing of batteries waiting to be picked up, the transportation of batteries to the processor and the storage of batteries awaiting processing.”
*This content was generated by https://americanrecycler.com. To read the original article or for more information go to https://americanrecycler.com/8568759/index.php/news/electronics-recycling/3278-battery-recycling-and-safety-issues