How do you dispose of your old car battery in an environmentally friendly way?

If your beloved car doesn’t start up again, especially in winter, it is usually because of a defective battery. The battery is no longer fully charged and does not provide enough power to start the vehicle. Now you need a new energy storage unit, which is available almost anywhere and is also relatively easy to install. But where to put the old one? In the household garbage? Under no circumstances should a battery be disposed of in a professional and environmentally friendly way. The battery of a car is a very polluting element for the environment because it contains acid and lead. Therefore, a dead battery should not be left in the environment.

Why not simply throw away used batteries?

A battery contains toxic substances and acid, more or less strong depending on the age of the battery. It also contains various metals and it would not make sense, from an ecological and economic point of view, to simply throw them away. These acids and metals can also pose a health risk if the battery is opened, not to mention the consequences for the environment. Some 1.3 billion batteries and accumulators, rechargeable batteries and used batteries are placed on the French market every year. In these batteries and accumulators, plastic and paper, but above all, still many heavy metals that can be toxic, for human beings and more broadly for all living beings and very polluting for the soil in particular: nickel, cadmium, mercury, lead, zinc and lithium. Thrown into nature, batteries deteriorate under the effect of corrosion. Thrown in the trash, they are buried and end up degrading or being incinerated. They then release these metals, which can pollute the environment. For example, nickel can be responsible for eczema or sinusitis. Mercury, which has fortunately almost disappeared from our batteries, causes gingivitis and damage to the nervous system. Cadmium, which also disappears from our batteries, is carcinogenic.

Disposing of a battery like an electric battery

The easiest way is to take your old battery back to the place where you bought the new one. The dealer is required to take it back. If you had the change made at a shop, you normally won’t have these problems anyway. No specialized workshop, whether it’s a brand name dealer or a small independent shop, will think of returning your old car battery to you. However, if you have any of the old car batteries in your garage, you can return them to the city or town’s waste or recycling depot. It will be disposed of there in a professional and environmentally friendly manner. Metals are also cleaned and reintegrated into the material cycle through recycling. It is best to ask your local waste disposal company about the opening hours of the recycling center, which are usually easy to find on the online portals of the relevant local authorities. When you go to the recycling center, make sure the used battery is in a safe position and cannot slide or tip over in your vehicle. This can certainly happen, because due to their mounting position in the vehicle, car batteries are often in contact with all kinds of dirt, so they are usually covered with a mixture of grease, oil and other dirt. If you tip over, the battery may leak, which would produce not only toxic fumes but also a corrosive liquid in your car. It is best to place the old battery in a small plastic bin, for example. If necessary, you can wash it after transport. Since you have paid a deposit for the disposal of your new battery, we recommend that you obtain a receipt when you return the old battery. With this receipt and your proof of purchase, you can go to the dealer and get the deposit refunded. When you return the old battery, you are entitled to payment of this amount. It is therefore also financially attractive to dispose of the old battery in accordance with the laws in force. At the same time, you protect the environment and your health.

What substances are present?

A standard car battery contains among other things lead. This is generally toxic. The battery liquid also contains sulphuric acid, which is very corrosive. Batteries contain metals such as nickel, cadmium, mercury, lead, iron, zinc or lithium, some of which are valuable, and often toxic and ecotoxic, harmful to the environment. Sooner or later, the battery casing decomposes, releasing the chemicals it contains. No commercially available battery is biodegradable. The European directive 2006/66/EC aims to reduce the impact of electric batteries and accumulators on the environment by promoting their recycling and limiting their content of ecotoxic metals. In France, batteries must not be thrown in the ordinary trash, but brought to a collection point, supermarkets, waste disposal centers and points of sale for recycling. French legislation transposed the European directive into a decree in 2009. In order to reduce the content of certain toxic metals in batteries, including mercury, the decree specifies that batteries and accumulators placed on the market, including those incorporated in electrical and electronic equipment […], shall contain no more than 0.0005% mercury by weight, except for button cells with a mercury content of less than 2% by weight, and for portable batteries and accumulators no more than 0.002% cadmium by weight. In order to encourage their collection and recycling, it is stated that distributors of portable batteries and accumulators shall take back, free of charge and without obligation to purchase new batteries or accumulators, used portable batteries and accumulators of the same type as those they sell that are brought to them by users. They shall inform users of the possibility of bringing used portable batteries and accumulators to their points of sale. Containers made available to users for this purpose are prominently displayed and easily accessible.

Preventing battery failures

Here are a few points, relatively easy to handle, that can considerably extend the life of the battery. First of all, you must make sure that the starter battery is always fully charged. Nothing is worse than too low a charge. If you only drive short distances and possibly use a lot of consumers on them (e.g. air conditioning, window and seat heating), you must also charge your battery manually at low temperatures. The voltage should be between 13.3 V and 14.4 V if possible. A significantly higher voltage, on the other hand, should be considered harmful. Before the onset of winter, check the battery fluid level. If it is too low, it should be topped up with distilled water. But be careful, if you have already done this several times, measure the concentration with an acid tester. If the concentration is no longer sufficient, the battery must be replaced. Under no circumstances should you, as a layman, fill the battery with acid yourself. There are also more and more so-called maintenance-free batteries on the market, whose acid level is not checked anyway.

Why do batteries need to be recycled?

Recycling initially saves raw materials, the processing of 100 tons of used batteries allows the recovery of :

  • 33 tons of zinc, used in the manufacture of roofs and gutters
  • 24 tons of nickel and iron alloys, which make it possible to manufacture the stainless steels found in cutlery and car bodies
  • 3 tons of lead, copper, cobalt and other metals reused in industry (in particular the manufacture of new batteries)
  • 40 tons of materials not yet recovered: manganese, graphite, plastics, paper and residues.

Thus, battery recycling can recover up to 80% of the metals contained. Global consumption of lithium and cobalt is growing significantly faster than production due to the high demand for lithium-ion batteries for the automotive industry. It is often argued that recycling old batteries will make up some of the difference, but recycling remains a complicated, energy-intensive and more efficient procedure for recovering cobalt than lithium.