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Recycling Mystery: Rechargeable Tool Batteries

Recycling Mystery: Rechargeable Tool Batteries

Many power tools use batteries to run instead of corded electricity or the muscle of the user. You can find rechargeable batteries in a variety of common household power tools such as drills, drivers, saws, blowers, work lights, and trimmers. Most people find it more convenient to use battery-powered tools than to be tethered to an electrical outlet. And rechargeable batteries are easy to charge when their power runs low. However, eventually, these batteries wear out and need to be disposed of. Are rechargeable tool batteries recyclable?

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Rechargeable Batteries 101

Rechargeable batteries work the same way that standard batteries do. Both make power by means of an electrochemical reaction involving an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte. In a rechargeable battery, the reaction has the capability to be reversible but a standard battery does not. A rechargeable battery is recharged by reversing the negative-to-positive electron flow that occurs during use. This resets the battery cells’ charge, making the battery usable again.

Common types of rechargeable batteries include lithium-ion (Li-ion), lithium-ion polymer (LiPo), lead-acid, nickel-cadmium (NiCad), and nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). But most home power tools use the familiar Li-ion batteries. These are also commonly used in electronic devices such as cellphones, laptops, and tablets. Li-ion batteries use lithium ions to move from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during use and then back again when charging. Today, Li-ion batteries hold a charge longer, can be used in a wide range of temperatures, and are lighter than other battery varieties.

The Need To Recycle

It’s very important to recycle spent rechargeable batteries as they can be very volatile. When not properly sorted, carefully transported, and safely taken apart, battery components can easily cause fires and even explosions. To visualize this hazard, watch Mythbusters Junior’s demonstration of how common batteries can cause fires when compacted as could happen in a garbage truck.

Additionally, batteries contain many reusable materials. Recycled lithium-ion batteries can be made into new batteries, steel, or stainless steel products. Nickel-based batteries can also be recycled into new batteries or products such as cutlery, golf clubs, and cooking tools.

And if you need another reason to recycle your batteries, it is illegal to dispose of them incorrectly in many states in the U.S. Some states require that producers offer or fund battery collection events.

Rechargeable Battery Recycling

Power tool rechargeable battery recycling has become commonplace in much of the U.S.

Most major cities should have a few locations where you can drop off batteries for recycling. Search Earth911’s recycling database or Call2Recycle’s specific battery recycling locator to find a location near you to find a recycling location for your spent tool batteries.

Most Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Staples stores accept rechargeable batteries for recycling in conjunction with Call2Recycle.

DeWalt also accepts rechargeable tool batteries from any manufacturer for recycling at their service locations, free of charge. The company designated October as National Power Tool Battery Recycling Month in 2008. But no matter what month it is, recycling your rechargeable batteries is the right thing to do.

Originally published on June 9, 2021, this article was updated in June 2022.

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