The safe disposal of batteries

This information sheet provides information on the safe disposal of batteries.


The number and diversity of electrical and electronic products that use batteries has grown dramatically in the past few decades. Most homes contain many pieces of equipment that depend on batteries to operate such as portable computers, mobile phones, cameras, toys, watches, torches, power tools, and electric toothbrushes.

The widespread use of batteries has created a number of environmental concerns. Recycling or proper disposal of batteries can prevent dangerous elements (such as lead, mercury and cadmium) found in some types of batteries from entering the environment.

What can I do with my old batteries?

Most households will use a number of different types of batteries. How you dispose of your battery will depend on what type you’re using.

Disposable batteries

Disposable batteries are those batteries we use in everyday items such as clocks, torches, smoke alarms and children's toys.

These are not classed as a hazardous waste in New Zealand because they have been manufactured free from toxic heavy metals such as mercury for a number of years now. It’s okay to dispose of small quantities of these batteries with your household waste. For larger quantities, some commercial operators offer a service that involves encapsulating the batteries in concrete so no leaching occurs, and disposing to landfill.


The exception is single use button cells – the type you find in hearing aids, pacemakers, calculators, and watches. These may contain mercury and should be recycled.

Rechargeable batteries

Rechargeable batteries are found within products such as mobile phones, cordless power tools, laptop computers, shavers, electric toothbrushes, motorised toys, and digital cameras. There are different rechargeable battery types, including nickel cadmium (NiCd), nickel-metal hydride (NiMH), and lithium ion (Li-ion). These batteries may contain hazardous metals and should be recycled wherever possible.

Lead acid vehicle batteries

Lead acid vehicle batteries such car batteries should be recycled. All the materials in lead acid batteries have a high environmental impact if disposed of improperly, and the lead in these batteries is a valuable recoverable resource. Take used lead acid batteries to your nearest transfer station or arrange for collection by a recycler.

Check with your local authority as disposal options can vary for different regions. You’ll find contact details for your local authority at www.localgovt.co.nz.

You can use the Yellow Pages to find a commercial battery processing facility near you.

What else can I do?

Here are some simple things you can do to reduce the environmental impact of batteries.

  • Use rechargeable batteries rather than single-use disposable batteries whenever possible. This      reduces waste, saves energy, and over time will cost you less.1
  • If you have to use single-use batteries, choose long-life brands.
  • Plug appliances into the mains power supply as often as you can to extend the life of your                 battery.
  • Consider choosing products powered by alternative energy sources, such as solar-powered              calculators or kinetic powered torches.
  • If your workplace uses significant volumes of batteries, check the Yellow Pages for specialist             companies who can provide safe recycling and disposal services.

Summary

The table below identifies battery types and suggests disposal options.

Type of battery

Common uses

Hazardous component

Disposal recycling options

Wet cell

Lead acid batteries*

Electrical energy supply for vehicles including cars, trucks, boats, tractors and motorcycles. Small sealed lead acid batteries are used for emergency lighting and uninterruptible power supplies

Sulphuric acid and lead

Recycle – most petrol stations and garages accept old car batteries and council waste facilities have collection points for lead acid batteries

Dry cell: non-rechargeable – single use

Zinc carbon

Torches, clocks, shavers, radios, toys and smoke alarms

Zinc

Not classed as a hazardous waste – okay to dispose of with household waste

Zinc chloride

Similar to above

Zinc

Alkaline manganese

Toys, calculators and other portable devices

Manganese (note some older alkaline batteries contain mercury*)

NB: Dry cell non-rechargeable batteries come in ‘AA’, ‘AAA’, ‘C’, ‘D’, lantern and miniature watch sizes.

Primary button cells

Mercuric oxide*

Hearing aids, pacemakers and cameras

Mercury

Preference is to recycle at council transfer station, if facilities are available

Zinc air

Hearing aids, pagers and cameras

Zinc

Silver oxide

Calculators, watches and cameras

Silver

Lithium

Computers, watches and cameras

Lithium (explosive and flammable)

Dry cell rechargeable – secondary batteries

Nickel cadmium* (NiCd)

Mobile phones, cordless power tools, laptop computers, shavers, motorised toys, and personal stereos

Cadmium

Preference is to recycle at council transfer station, if facilities are available

Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH)

Alternative to above. Longer life than NiCd batteries

Nickel

Lithium ion (Li-ion)

As above. Greater energy storage capacity than NiCd or NiMH

Lithium

Note: Batteries with an asterisk (*) are listed as hazardous on the New Zealand Waste List. The Ministry for the Environment recommends that landfill operators and their consenting authority follow the Hazardous Waste Guidelines: Landfill Waste Acceptance Criteria and Landfill Classification to ensure correct disposal and/or treatment of hazardous wastes.

This information sheet is one in a series of four information sheets about the safe disposal of common household products including mobile phones, computer equipment and lamps. These information sheets are available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.

 

1 Note that common rechargeable batteries are not suitable for some applications such as smoke alarms and emergency torches due to their high self-discharge rate.

Last updated: 22 March 2012