In this guide, I’ll show you how to recycle lead acid batteries in safe and environmentally-friendly ways.
- How to get a $10 gift card for recycling your old car battery
- How to recycle small sealed lead acid batteries at Lowes or Home Depot
- How to find lead acid battery recycling centers near you
Let’s get started.
1. Recycle Car Batteries at a Local Auto Parts Store
In most states, you can drop off an old car battery at an auto parts store — such as AutoZone, Advance Auto Parts, and Napa Auto Parts. They’ll recycle the battery for you.
Note: If you’re buying a new car battery at the same time, the old battery will often automatically count as a credit toward the purchase of a new one. This is due to the refunding of the core charge.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Call your local auto parts store before going. Ask if they recycle the type of auto battery you have. Most locations accept most auto batteries, but there are exceptions in some states and for some vehicles.
2. Remove the battery from the car. Disconnect the negative then positive battery cables. Remove the strap that holds the battery in place. Then remove the battery from the car.
3. Drop your battery off for recycling. Take it your local auto parts store and drop it off at the counter. They’ll take care of the recycling for you.
2. Recycle Small Sealed Lead Acid Batteries at Lowes and Home Depot
Many big-name retailers accept small sealed lead acid batteries for recycling — usually up to 11 pounds and 300 watt hours.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Go to Call2Recycle. It’s a national battery recycling program that has a lot of drop-off locations across the country — including Lowes, Staples, and Home Depot stores. In fact, Call2Recycle estimates that 86% of North Americans live within 10 miles of a drop-off location. No excuse! 😉
2. Enter your location to find drop-off locations near you. For example, I entered my zip code. It turns out there are 9 drop-off locations near me.
Tip: If Call2Recycle doesn’t have any locations near you, try searching on Earth911. It has its own searchable database of drop-off locations and recycling centers.
3. Find a drop-off location that accepts lead acid batteries. To learn which kinds of rechargeable batteries a location accepts, click the little info icon in the search results.
A popup will open telling you what kinds. For instance, a Home Depot near me recycles small sealed lead acid batteries up to 11 pounds. Check that your battery meets the location’s requirements.
4. Drop off the battery for recycling. Drop-off locations have drop-off bins usually near the front of the store. And, while you’re at it, why not recycle your other old rechargeable batteries? It’s free.
3. Recycle Lead Acid Batteries at a Lead Acid Battery Recycling Center Near You
Many cities have recycling centers that accept lead acid batteries. Here’s how to find one near you:
1. Search for lead acid battery recycling centers near you. For example, I live in Atlanta so I searched “atlanta recycling lead acid batteries” on Google. The city government’s website came up with a page on how to dispose of car batteries. (Car batteries are lead acid batteries.)
2. Find a local recycling center that accepts lead acid batteries. I visited my city government’s website and found a center near me for hard to recycle materials.
3. Drop off the battery for recycling. Fees may apply. The fees are usually based on the weight of the battery. You may also have to schedule an appointment, so I recommend calling ahead.
4. Use a Paid Battery Recycling Service
If none of the options above work for you, there is a final way — pay for someone to pick up and recycle your lead acid battery for you. You do this by buying a battery recycling kit.
Call2Recycle sells a Small Battery Recycling Box suited for around 20-25 pounds of batteries and a Large Battery Recycling Box suited for around 40-50 pounds. There’s also a kit from The Big Green Box.
The kits usually come with a recycling container, prepaid shipping label, and the necessary permit for shipping batteries. In most cases the kits have battery weight and watt-hour limits. Check before buying.
Once the kit arrives, you simply put your batteries in the container, slap on the shipping label, and schedule a pickup. The service will pick up the container and recycle the batteries.
Paying to recycle a lead acid battery is a far cry from auto parts stores that give you a $10 gift card for old car batteries, but sometimes it’s your only option.
How Do Lead Acid Batteries Get Recycled?
Battery Council International put together a good video overview of this process:
Here’s how lead acid batteries get recycled:
- Lead acid battery recyclers collect dead lead acid batteries from consumers. These recyclers include auto parts stores, home improvement stores, big-box retailers, and local recycling centers.
- The recyclers ship them to a recycling facility. This is an EPA-regulated facility for recycling batteries.
- The recycling facility inspects the shipments to make sure they’re only recycling lead batteries. It’s important that they remove any lithium-ion batteries from the shipment because lithium batteries are flammable.
- The batteries are broken apart in a machine and the acid is drained. The lead and plastic parts of the battery then go into a container filled with water. The plastic pieces float and the lead pieces sink, making them easy to separate.
- The reclaimed lead gets smelted and refined for use in new batteries. Nearly all the lead gets recycled from this process.
- The reclaimed plastic pieces are cleaned and melted into pellets for use in new battery cases. Most of the plastic gets recycled, too.
- Most of the reclaimed acid is converted to sodium sulfate. Sodium sulfate is an odorless powder used to make other products such as powdered laundry detergent and glass.
- New lead acid batteries are made from the recycled materials. According to the EPA, a typical lead acid battery contains 60-80% recycled lead and plastic.
Environmental Impact of Lead Acid Battery Recycling
At first glance, lead acid battery recycling seems like the crowning achievement of the recycling industry. According to trade groups, 99% of all lead acid batteries are safely recycled — making them the most recycled consumer product in America.
But when you look into how some lead batteries are recycled, problems start to crop up.
In many countries, unregulated small businesses recycle the lead in unsafe and polluting ways. The consequences may be greater than we had previously estimated.
According to a report from UNICEF, “children around the world are being poisoned by lead on a massive and previously unrecognized scale.” One in three children — around 800 million children globally — have blood lead levels associated with developmental issues such as decreased intelligence and learning problems.
The report cites the “unsound recycling of used lead-acid batteries” as one of the most concerning sources of the lead exposure.
Of course, we shouldn’t stop recycling lead batteries. But we need to recycle them better at a global scale. The public health consequences are enormous.