Proper handling of used batteries

Batteries used in many household and office products, as well as motor vehicle batteries, contain a variety of heavy metals and other materials that can be harmful to human health and the environment if not handled properly. Many of these materials can be recovered and reused by specialized recyclers.

Household (dry cell) batteries

Batteries used in household items

Household AA batteries

Dry cell batteries are batteries used in many household items – including power tools, watches, video cameras, calculators, hand-held vacuum cleaners, flashlights, toys and hearing aids. They include alkaline, alkaline rechargeable, lead acid sealed, lithium, metal hydride, mercuric oxide, nickel-cadmium, silver oxide and zinc-air batteries. They include AAA, AA, C, D, 9v, button, coin and other sizes.

Environmental impacts of dry cell batteries

The materials in dry cell batteries – mercury, lithium, silver cadmium, lead and acids – all have the potential to be hazardous wastes. If batteries are burned or landfilled, the heavy metals in them can be released into the environment.

Metals such as silver, cadmium, nickel and lead that may be hazardous if released into the environment are also valuable metals that can be recovered for reuse.

Legal requirements for managing used household batteries

Wisconsin has no legal requirements for disposing of household dry-cell batteries. Household waste is not regulated as a hazardous waste identified in ch. NR 661, Wis. Adm. Code [exit DNR]. However, if a household waste is managed separately by a non-household member, this exemption no longer applies.

Homeowners should check with their local recycling program to see if there are additional restrictions.

Preferred handling options: reduce and recycle!

Reduce waste at the source by buying rechargeable batteries whenever possible. When your rechargeable batteries come to the end of their lifespan, they can also be recycled. Alkaline batteries may be put in the trash, but some battery retailers or other recycling locations may accept alkaline batteries for a small fee.

To find a recycler in your area for rechargeable or other batteries:

  • visit Call2Recycle [exit DNR] or call toll-free 1-877-2-RECYCLE; many national retailers are participating in a non-profit program to recycle rechargeable batteries and have collection boxes in their stores;
  • contact your local recycling program to see if they provide for collection; many county websites [exit DNR] may also contain information on recycling; or
  • find a licensed battery handler [PDF] in your county.

Resources

Automotive (lead-acid) batteries

Batteries used in motor vehicles and engines

Lead-acid batteries, or "automotive type batteries," are found in cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats and vehicles and devices with internal combustion engines.

Car battery

If stored improperly, lead-acid batteries may leak or spill and cause lead and/or acid contamination of the soil and groundwater. Acid from leaking batteries can burn the eyes and skin. If recycled properly, the lead can be recovered for reuse.

Under chapter 287.07(1m), Wis. Stats., it is illegal to burn or dispose of lead-acid batteries in Wisconsin.

Retailer battery recycling program

Lead-acid batteries are completely recyclable. Consumers may bring lead-acid batteries to any Wisconsin retailer that sells these batteries, during normal business hours, for recycling. This service is free to customers who purchase a new battery when they bring in a used one. Customers may be charged a fee of up to $3 if they bring in a used battery without purchasing a new one.

Retailers must charge a deposit of $10 on the sale of an automotive type replacement battery, and must refund the deposit if the customer returns to the same retailer, at any location owned or operated by the retailer, with a used battery. The retailer may require proof that the consumer purchased a battery from the retailer.

The state recycling law requires battery retailers to post a sign stating "Recycle Automotive Batteries Here." The sign must be 8.5 x 11 inches and be visible to customers.

Resources for retailers

Safe handling of lead-acid batteries

When handling a used lead-acid battery, use rubber gloves and eye protection and always wash hands immediately after handling the battery. Store used batteries in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area on a leak-proof surface or in a dry, well-ventilated area in a leak-proof container to protect against exposure and ensure that acid and lead will not leak into soil or groundwater. Do not short circuit battery terminals or remove vent caps. Protect battery from physical damage. Sealed five-gallon plastic pails are adequate for storing a leaking or cracked battery.

Last revised: Wednesday September 10 2014