Maybe you own an old car which has officially died. You’ve decided to rip it apart, sell what you can, and recycle the rest. After removing the battery, you realise that is absolutely a mess; corroded, white, maybe even oozing a bit. Basically, this battery is a complete waste. What to do with it? How do you dispose of a used vehicle battery?
The short answer is that you don’t. At least, not if “dispose” means “throw in the rubbish bin.” There are ways to get rid of old batteries, but by law they may not be thrown in with the rest of your trash. Batteries contain hazardous materials and need to be treated accordingly – so like it or not, you’ll need to give your old battery some special treatment at the end of its life.
How and where to dispose of an old battery
Used vehicle batteries must be recycled in facilities that are properly equipped to handle them. In general this means a scrap metal facility, garage, or local recycling center. If you’re replacing the battery in a car, you can often turn in the old battery at the same place you purchase the new one.
If you’re going to scrap the entire car, it can be easiest to leave the battery in the car. Any authorised scrap metal yard, equipped to process end-of-life vehicles, should have the necessary equipment to process the battery as well. If you’ve removed the battery, or even found an old car battery lurking in your dad’s workshop, you’ll have to do a little more research to find the best place to dispose of it.
While it can be worth checking some of the above places that can take your used battery, like a garage or local recycling center, you can also look up an Authorised Treatment Facility (ATF). These are same facilities that accept scrap cars for recycling, and they are equipped to handle used batteries, or at least to send them on to specialised facilities to be recycled. Look up an ATF near via this site.
Why do you need to dispose of a battery like this?
The process for disposing of waste batteries is tightly regulated, primarily in order to control the toxic chemicals present in them. In 2009, the UK government passed the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations, which sets all the guidelines for disposing of old batteries.
Why are car batteries considered so dangerous? The great majority of vehicle batteries are comprised primarily of lead, with a not-insignificant amount of sulphuric acid also. Both of those ingredients pose extensive risks to the human nervous system and various internal organs, as well as the brain and the reproductive organs. So while these acid-lead batteries are great for keeping your car running smoothly, they’re pretty terrible to keep around for anything else.
There is good news! With modern technology, much of the material in old batteries can be reclaimed and reused. The big push to regulate battery disposal was intended to help encourage people to recycle old batteries, rather than dump them in a landfill somewhere. While the extra rules may seem a bit cumbersome, it’s well worth the extra steps. This ensures that batteries get a second life, and the dangerous elements in them don’t get the chance to pollute anything.
Special Tip – Removing an old battery
Decided to remove the battery yourself? Maybe your first car seems likely to be your forever car – it just keeps moving along. Well, if you’ve made the call to keep the car and replace the battery, here are some tips to help keep you safe, and maybe even reduce the stress a bit.
- Disconnect the battery. Always start here, even for a basic inspection.
- Inspect it. Are there any major dents? Leaks?
- Wear protective clothing. Battery acid is no joke – at the very least, it can corrode and ruin clothing. At its worst, it can cause burns to skin and permanently damage your eyes.
- Don’t move it – if there is major damage. If your inspection turns up extensive damage to the battery case, it’s best to leave it to a professional.
- Keep the battery upright – don’t transport a battery on its side. Always keep the terminals on top.
- Lift carefully – vehicle batteries can be surprisingly heavy; remember, lead is a primary component.
What happens next?
Once you’ve gotten the battery to a capable facility, you’re done! You can sit back and relax. From here, your old battery will probably proceed to one of a number of specialised recycling centers.
At those centers, batteries get crushed and separated into various components. The plastic casing joins other plastics to be cleaned and turned into pellets. The lead is reclaimed from the battery in two forms – solid “grids” and a lead paste. Most of the acid vanishes in the different processes, though some facilities possess the technology to capture and recycle it, often as gypsum. Both the solid and paste forms of lead undergo melting and further purification, until they are stored and ready to be reused.
In total, as much as 90% of your old vehicle battery may be recyclable. Whether it’s time to change batteries or to change cars entirely, be sure to take that extra step to dispose of your used car battery safely.
If all of this sounds like too much hassle, then you could always just donate your whole car to us, so we can scrap it and give the proceeds to charity.