City of Madison. Batteries and bulbs recycling

Batteries and bulbs recycling

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Household Battery Recycling


There are specific handling directions for each kind.

For all battery types, please remove them from packaging, bags, and other battery storage/transport means (like bottles or jars).

Battery recycling is for household batteries only. Do not place nails, screws, light bulbs, electric toothbrushes, vape pens, or other small items in with the batteries.


Residents should separate lithium batteries from the other types. You must also tape their contact points with clear tape.

You must use clear tape. Packing tape is best.

Do not use duct tape, masking tape, electrical tape, painters’ tape, or gaffers tape, and so on.

Place taped batteries into the appropriate container at the drop-off sites.

How can I tell if I have a lithium battery?

Lithium batteries are easily identifiable.

Lithium batteries will be clearly labeled with the word Lithium or Li-ion written on them.

They are the flat, button-like batteries, like those found in watches or hearing aides.

They also commonly found powering cameras, phones, and lap tops. Sometimes they look like traditional single-use batteries but have the word Lithium written on the side. Many drills, and other heavy-duty battery operated items (like lawn mowers) use lithium batteries.

How should I tape these batteries?

The easiest way to tape your lithium batteries is to first lay a strip of packing tape on a flat surface, sticky side up. Place the batteries onto the sticky strip of tape. Finally, press another strip of packing tape (sticky side down) on top of the batteries, making a simple package that prevents the batteries from slipping and contacting each other.

You are trying to cover the parts of the battery that deliver power to the device they would be inside. These would be the contact points.

Why do I need to tape up batteries? This is a hassle.

Lithium batteries are a fire hazard. They can generate heat, or spark when damaged, which can lead to fires. Taping the contact points makes them inactive. Taping the ends is to help comply with US Department of Transportation regulations on shipping these types of batteries.

Residents should separate nickel batteries from the other types. You must also tape their contact points with clear tape.

You must use clear tape. Packing tape is best.

Do not use duct tape, masking tape, electrical tape, painters’ tape or gaffers tape, or so on.

Place taped batteries into the appropriate container at the drop-off sites.

How can I tell if I have a nickel battery?

These are most often rechargeable batteries for items like drills or cordless telephones.

You can identify them because they have Ni-CD or Ni-MH written on the battery.

How should I tape these batteries?

Same way as with the lithium batteries. You should cover the area where the battery would be delivering power to the device.

Some nickel batteries have a red and black wire leading from the battery to a plastic plug or port. Cover this plastic piece with clear tape to prevent the nickel battery from delivering a charge.

Other nickel batteries are more traditional and have metal contact points.

Here’s some examples of taped nickel batteries:

Why do I need to tape up these batteries?

It’s required by the vendor who accepts them.

There are no special handling instructions for most alkaline batteries.

Alkaline batteries 12 volts and higher should be taped in the manner noted above (tape the contact points).

Only use clear tape. Packing tape works best.

Do not use duct tape, electrical tape, painters’ tape, making tape, gaffers tape, and so on.

Zinc batteries can also be placed in with the alkaline batteries without being taped.

Place them into the appropriate container at the drop-off sites.


Streets Division drop-off sites will accept batteries from City of Madison residents. Check the drop-off site page for hours and locations that will accept batteries.

Other drop off sites may exist at private locations throughout the city, but the requirement to separate and package batteries will likely be enforced at these locations as well.

Batteries Plus locations will recycle batteries for a fee.

Single Use Batteries Vs. Rechargeable, Which Should You Choose?

Read up on the debate and decide what’s best for your situation:

Rechargeable Battery Recycling Options:

There are many locations in the greater Dane County area that can recycle rechargeable batteries, including many hardware stores. Check the Dane County Recycling Disposal Directory for more options.

Vehicle, UPS, Other Lead Acid Batteries

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How to Recycle Single-Use Batteries

We use single-use batteries to power remote controls, computer mice, wall clocks, digital scales, our kids’ toys, and so much more. There are many types of batteries and all of them can be recycled — but not in your curbside recycling bin. There are some nuances about which variety of batteries you can recycle at different locations.

Single-use batteries aren’t usually very complicated with a steel shell, a brass pin collector in the middle, manganese dioxide and carbon cathode, and a zinc anode. Steel is extremely recyclable and the other components can also be reused readily. It’s important to reuse and recycle these non-renewable materials to conserve the resources our Earth provides for us.

To find your nearest battery recycling location jump to the Recycling Locator.

Batteries Recycling Preparations

  • Power down your device and then remove the battery and inspect it. If the battery has leaked any of its internal liquid, you need to treat this battery with a bit more care and it may not be accepted for recycling (check with the business you take your batteries to for recycling). It’s best to clean out the inside of your device to remove any crust that the liquid left behind.
  • Store batteries so that their active ends are not in contact with each other. Tape the end of the active terminal or line up all batteries so they won’t shift. This will prevent damage to the batteries themselves.
  • Never store spent batteries in a location where they can overheat or freeze as it can harm batteries and potentially start a fire.

Why Recycle Single-Use Batteries

  • The materials contained within batteries may be either volatile or hazardous. This means they can cause explosions if handled improperly, especially overheated or compressed.
  • Batteries contain valuable materials that can be reused to make new products or batteries themselves.
  • The materials used to make batteries are non-renewable and we should reuse materials instead of sending them to the landfill. Reusing and recycling materials does take energy but has less impact than mining for virgin materials.

How to Recycle Single-Use Batteries

There are different options for recycling depending on the type of batteries you are looking to dispose of. Some battery types are easy to recycle locally and others you may have to turn to national efforts. Some options require a fee to recycle and others are free.

Free Recycling Options

Check with your local municipality, waste hauler, and local solid waste district to see if they collect single-use batteries for recycling or if they accept batteries during household hazardous waste collection days. Some local hardware stores will also accept single-use batteries for recycling, but it is not always free.

To find your nearest battery recycling location jump to the Recycling Locator or use our recycling search tool.

Paid Recycling Options

Standard alkaline batteries such as AAA, AA, 9-Volt, D, and C can usually be recycled at Batteries Bulbs stores. They usually charge a small fee. All Batteries Bulbs stores are franchise-owned and are run a bit differently so they have different recycling offerings. Check with your local store.

Button cell batteries often come in specialty items such as watches, car fobs, or hearing aids. Jewelry stores, car dealerships, and audiologists frequently have recycling programs at their place of business to deal with these batteries.

There are a number of mail-in recycling options that are more expensive. If you have large quantities of batteries to recycle, look to the Big Green Box or Cirba Solutions (formerly Battery Solutions). Call2Recycle, a nonprofit that leads rechargeable battery recycling programs recently started offering mail-in single-use battery recycling as well. Both Republic and Waste Management, large waste haulers, also offer national mail-in recycling for many types of batteries.

Can I recycle batteries in my curbside recycling bin?

It is very unlikely that you can recycle batteries in your curbside bin or municipal recycling drop-off location. Don’t put batteries in your curbside bin unless you have specific instructions from your local recycling authority to do so.

While curbside pickup is unlikely, many cities and counties will accept single-use batteries during periodic household hazardous waste (HHW) collection events. Visit your city and county website to find out if they host these events.

Some municipalities also have dedicated HHW locations that accept materials like batteries all year round. Check your city website or use Earth911 recycling search to find a HHW location near you.

How are batteries recycled?

Depending on which kind of battery you are recycling, battery components can become many different new products. Battery manufacturers frequently recycle spent battery components directly into new batteries. Steel can be recycled into kitchenware such as pots and pans, and silverware or cups and plates. It can sometimes be turned into asphalt.

Is it against the law to throw away batteries?

Currently, California is the only state in which it is illegal to throw any type of battery (including single-use) in the trash. Many other states do not allow the disposal of rechargeable batteries in the trash. However, just because it may not be illegal in your state, all batteries should be disposed of in a responsible manner.

Many states have a law regarding the proper disposal of batteries. If you’re curious about your state, take a look at the Recycling Laws map from Call2Recycle.

What are the most common types of single-use batteries I might use at home?

Alkaline: The most common type of single-use household battery, you may use them in flashlights, TV remotes, wireless mice, clocks, and toys.

Button cell: Either single-use (alkaline, zinc-air) or single-use lithium, these small batteries are commonly used in watches and hearing aids. Also sometimes called coin batteries, they are a choking hazard for small children.

Lithium single-use: Found in cameras, watches, remote controls, handheld games, and smoke detectors, these batteries sometimes have a specialized shape for the product they power.

Silver-oxide: You may have single-use or rechargeable button cell silver-oxide batteries in small electronics like watches, calculators, and hearing aids.

Zinc-air: These single-use batteries often come in button form for use in small electronics like hearing aids and watches.

Zinc-carbon: You may find these single-use batteries in TV remotes, clocks, smoke detectors, and other household electronics.

Additional Reading

  • Home Battery Recycling Guide – How to recycle batteries broken down by common types found at home
  • Recycling Batteries is Easy with The Big Green Box – Overview of The Big Green Box mail-in recycling program
  • Used Household Batteries – Information from the EPA about the types of batteries used in households and how to manage them when they are no longer needed.
  • How to Recycle Rechargeable Batteries – Our Recycling Guide for rechargeable batteries

Having trouble finding a local recycler? Check out the Big Green Box mail-in option!

Should Batteries Be Tossed or Recycled?

EarthTalk is a regular feature of E/The Environmental Magazine. Selected EarthTalk columns are reprinted by permission of the editors of E.

Today’s common household batteries—those ubiquitous AAs, AAAs, Cs, Ds, and 9-volts from Duracell, Energizer, and others manufacturers—no longer pose as great a threat to properly equipped modern landfills as they used to. Because new batteries contain much less mercury than their predecessors, most municipalities now recommend simply throwing such batteries away with your trash. Common household batteries are also called alkaline batteries; the chemical type is important in choosing proper disposal options.

Battery Disposal or Recycling?

Nevertheless, environmentally concerned consumers might feel better recycling such batteries anyway, as they still do contain trace amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic materials. Some municipalities will accept these batteries (as well as older, more toxic ones) at household hazardous waste facilities. From such facilities, the batteries will most likely be sent elsewhere to be processed and recycled as components in new batteries, or incinerated in a dedicated hazardous waste processing facility.

How to Recycle Batteries

Other options abound, such as the mail-order service, Battery Solutions, which will recycle your spent batteries at a low cost, calculated by the pound. Meanwhile, the national chain, Batteries Plus Bulbs, is happy to take back disposable batteries for recycling at any of its hundreds of retail stores coast-to-coast.

Older Batteries Should Always Be Recycled

Consumers should note that any old batteries they may find buried in their closets that were made before 1997—when Congress mandated a widespread mercury phase-out in batteries of all types—should most surely be recycled and not discarded with the trash. These batteries may contain as much as 10 times the mercury of newer versions. Check with your municipality; they may have a program for this type of waste, such as a yearly hazardous waste drop off day.

Lithium batteries, these small, round ones used for hearing aids, watches, and car key fobs, are toxic and should not be thrown in the trash. Treat them like you would any other household hazardous waste.

Car batteries are recyclable, and in fact, are quite valuable. Auto part stores will gladly take them back, and so will many residential waste transfer stations.

The Problem of Rechargeable Batteries

Perhaps of greater concern nowadays is what’s happening to spent rechargeable batteries from cell phones, laptops, and other portable electronic equipment. Such items contain potentially toxic heavy metals sealed up inside, and if thrown out with the regular garbage can jeopardize the environmental integrity of both landfills and incinerator emissions. Luckily, the battery industry sponsors the operations of Call2Recycle, Inc. (formerly the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation or RBRC), which facilitates the collection of used rechargeable batteries in an industry-wide “take back” program for recycling. Your big-box hardware store chain (like Home Depot and Lowes) likely has a booth where you can drop off rechargeable batteries for recycling.

Additional Battery Recycling Options

Consumers can help by limiting their electronics purchases to items that carry the Battery Recycling Seal on their packaging (note that this seal still has the RBRC acronym on it). Furthermore, consumers can find out where to drop off old rechargeable batteries (and even old cell phones) by checking Call2Recycle’s website. Also, many electronics stores will take back rechargeable batteries and deliver them to Call2Recycle free-of-charge. Check with your favorite retailer. Call2Recycle then processes the batteries via a thermal recovery technology that reclaims metals such as nickel, iron, cadmium, lead, and cobalt, repurposing them for use in new batteries.

Yes, You Can (and Should) Recycle Batteries. Here’s How.

For most of my young adulthood, I kept an empty pretzel container in the back of my closet that I filled with spent batteries. As my collection grew, I made myself feel better about this battery boneyard by imagining it as a tiny cabinet of curiosities—with corroded AAs, an assortment of button-cell batteries, and an old smartphone standing in for precious objets d’art and reticulated skeletons—but in reality I just didn’t know what to do with them.

I wanted to spare my spent batteries from the trash can (where they could potentially catch fire or explode) and keep them out of the landfill (where they could leach harmful chemicals into local ecosystems), but I wasn’t sure how to recycle them. I was also skeptical that recycling would actually do anything, having spent decades dutifully recycling plastic with seemingly little impact (from 1980 to 2018, just 7% of all plastic generated was recycled in the US).

Fortunately, the landscape of options for battery recycling has evolved significantly as I’ve eased into my thirties. Unlike plastics, which are notoriously difficult and unprofitable to recycle, recycling the metals found in most batteries is simpler and often legally mandated, and it has become more lucrative as demand for electronics continues to rise. After reporting on batteries and charging accessories over the past few years, not to mention recycling batteries of all types, I’ve found that these are the best recycling methods—they’re easy to do and easy on the environment.

Drop them off

A growing number of municipalities, as well as several private companies, provide designated drop-off sites for battery recycling. Some offer this service for free, while others may charge a fee (usually based on the type and quantity of batteries you want to drop off). Either way, it’s a convenient option.

You can find electronic-waste recycling facilities in your area using these searchable databases:

  • Call2Recycle specializes in battery recycling and lets you narrow your search by whether you’re looking to recycle rechargeable batteries, single-use batteries, cell phones, or e-bike batteries. It has an extensive list of public and private collection sites (including its own, which collects batteries weighing up to 11 pounds apiece).
  • Greener Gadgets lets you search for facilities that recycle many types of e-waste, including televisions, monitors, computers and laptops, printers, and mobile phones. You can filter by the latter category to find facilities that also accept batteries, since most recyclers that collect battery-containing items such as phones take batteries as well. (Nevertheless, you should independently confirm that your preferred location accepts the kind of batteries you want to recycle.)
  • Earth911 and GreenCitizen have nearly identical interfaces that allow you to locate recycling facilities for household waste of all kinds. Both let you search by keyword or by selecting a common type of waste listed on the left side of the page. I recommend selecting “batteries” then the most-specific category that appears in the drop-down menu (such as “alkaline batteries”) for best results.

Once you decide on a drop-off site, you may want to call ahead to confirm that it accepts the specific type(s) of batteries you have, just in case the website isn’t up to date. You should also see if they have any requirements on how to prepare the batteries, like sorting them by chemical composition—such as alkaline, lithium, or nickel metal hydride—or sealing them in a clear plastic bag.

Mail them in

If you’re homebound or simply prefer to recycle by mail, you have several good options.

First, see if your local recycling provider has a mail-in service. Just like buying local produce, it’s generally more sustainable to minimize the distance your batteries must travel from your home to their final destination (even though your local provider might very well ship them to an out-of-state or overseas materials recovery facility, anyway). Earth911’s database is the most useful tool I’ve found for addressing this concern, since it has a filter to zero in on mail-in programs.

If you don’t have a mail-in program in your area, the database shows results for national programs that accept batteries from your zip code as well. It also labels municipal programs and locations as such, which is helpful if you want to differentiate between public and private recycling services. If you still can’t find your provider in the database you’re using (none of them are comprehensive), you may need to do an old-fashioned Google search to find the main number for your local sanitation department, which should be able to point you in the right direction.

These are the mail-in services for battery recycling that I’ve tried and can recommend:

  • Call2Recycle’s smallest Battery Cellphone Recycling Kit (55 at the time of publication) holds as much as 25 pounds. It accepts cell phones, coin and button-cell batteries, and batteries up to 300 Wh (the size of our budget pick for portable power stations), including both conventional alkaline batteries and others made of carbon zinc, lead acid, lithium, lithium ion, nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, and nickel zinc. The exterior is a basic cardboard box, but it has a flame-retardant interior liner, and it comes with 50 small bags to sort and seal up your batteries to prevent sparking or leaking. A pre-addressed shipping label and recycling fees are also included in the cost. In dollars per pound, this is the least expensive mail-in option I’ve tried.
  • The Big Green Box “Mini” (about 35 at the time of publication) holds up to 10 pounds of batteries (including alkaline, carbon zinc, lithium, lithium ion, nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, and silver oxide) as well as a variety of household electronic devices (such as cell phones, laptops, tablets, power tools, gaming systems, and wireless earbuds). A roll of packing tape for covering battery terminals, a pre-addressed shipping label, and recycling fees are included in the cost of the box.
  • The EasyPak Micro Battery Recycling Container from TerraCycle Regulated Waste (80 at the time of publication) holds up to 10 pounds of batteries (about the weight of a miniature pinscher). It’s easy to use—simply fill it with batteries and ship it to a recycling facility—and a pre-addressed shipping label, home pickup, and recycling fees are included in the cost of the container. You can use it to send in a wide variety of battery sizes (including AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-volt) and chemical compositions (including alkaline, carbon zinc, iron, lithium, lithium ion, nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, and silver). The container itself is made of a sturdy plastic—it’s a glorified bucket—so you don’t have to worry about it getting damaged from rusting, corroding, or leaking batteries.

Leave them out for pickup

Very few places in the US allow residents to put batteries out with their weekly recycling, but if it’s permitted where you live, it’s a great option. For instance, in some California cities you can recycle a wide variety of battery types this way, including both rechargeable and single-use AAA, AA, C, D, and 9-volt batteries. To take advantage of this service, residents must simply tape up their batteries’ exposed terminals (so they don’t short-circuit and start a fire), seal them in a plastic bag, and set them on top of their recycling bin on their regular pickup day. Taping and bagging your batteries might seem like a chore, but it’s worth doing: Minneapolis recently ceased all residential battery-recycling pickups after a vape pen started smoldering in a local library’s e-waste collection bin.

Usually, though, pickup has a few more stipulations. In some parts of Colorado, residents can call to schedule a pickup or wait for an annual collection of household hazardous waste. In Los Angeles, where I live, I can call the city’s sanitation department to request a curbside pickup. And people living in the Pennsylvania township of North Fayette have one of the cushiest setups I’ve seen: After registering and scheduling a pickup online, they receive a bag in the mail to fill with their batteries and other accepted waste, which they can then seal up and leave on the curb.

If you don’t know whether a government department or private contractor handles recycling in your area—let alone if they’ll pick up your used batteries—I’d start by checking Earth911’s searchable database. In addition to labeling each search result to indicate whether it’s a municipal or a private provider, the database has a color-coded list of the various items accepted during routine pickups. (But again, none of the databases I’ve used are entirely up to date or exhaustive, so you may need to confirm your findings with a phone call.)

Why bother recycling batteries?

If you’re jaded about the recycling industrial complex—and perhaps rightfully so—you might feel unmotivated to spend your time, energy, and possibly money on battery recycling. But you have several good reasons to do so.

For one, it’s safer than just dumping them in the trash. Improperly disposing of batteries can cause fires or explosions. Not only are you putting your own household in harm’s way when you toss batteries in the garbage, but you could be unwittingly risking the safety of sanitation workers who come into contact with your trash after it leaves your doorstep.

city, madison, batteries, bulbs, recycling

Even though some municipalities allow residents to put certain types of batteries in the trash, such as alkaline or carbon-zinc batteries, the EPA still recommends that you recycle them. It’s simpler than trying to remember which batteries go where, and (even with this handy guide) it’s easy to misread the fine print and confuse one battery type with another.

Trashing your batteries is also bad for local ecosystems. When batteries and other items containing heavy metals or other toxic materials end up in a landfill, they often leach harmful chemicals into local soil and water systems. But more often than not, nonferrous metals—the kind commonly used to make batteries and other electronics—are destined for the trash. For example, in 2018, about 3.4 million tons of aluminum, nickel, zinc, and other nonferrous metals were landfilled, whereas just 2.4 million tons were recycled.

Likewise, batteries may contain metals that can be salvaged and made into new electronics, reducing the overall need to mine more raw materials. This is good for consumers, since bottlenecks in the metal-mining industry can lead to shortages that hike up the cost of consumer electronics. Furthermore, the metal-mining industry has a long track record of human rights violations and is by far the biggest source of toxic chemicals released into the environment annually in the US.

Fortunately, it takes far less energy to recycle most metals than it does to produce them. Metal is highly energy-intensive to mine and process for manufacturing, but it’s generally one of the easiest materials to recycle. And unlike plastic and paper, which degrade each time they’re handled, metals can be recycled indefinitely.

Another great reason to recycle your batteries? It might encourage you to visit a new small business in your community. For example, until I saw it listed on Call2Recycle, I was unaware of a store near me called The Dinosaur Farm that specializes in dinosaur-related toys, books, and other paleontological paraphernalia. Lesson learned: Recycle your batteries, and avoid missing out on dinosaur-themed toy stores.

This article was edited by Ben Keough and Erica Ogg.

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