Environmental Protection Agency: Used Lithium-Ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries and devices containing these batteries should NOT go in household garbage or recycling bins.

Lithium-ion batteries SHOULD be taken to separate recycling or household hazardous waste collection points.EXIT

To prevent fires, tape battery terminals and/or place lithium-ion batteries in separate plastic bags.

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General Information

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are used in many products such as electronics, toys, wireless headphones, handheld power tools, small and large appliances, electric vehicles and electrical energy storage systems. If not properly managed at the end of their useful life, they can cause harm to human health or the environment.

The increased demand for Li-ion batteries in the marketplace can be traced largely to the high “energy density” of this battery chemistry. “Energy density” means the amount of energy that a system stores in an amount of space. Lithium batteries can be smaller and lighter than other types of batteries while holding the same amount of energy. This miniaturization has allowed for a rapid increase in the consumer adoption of smaller portable and cordless products.

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Information for Consumers

There are two types of lithium batteries that the U.S. consumers use and need to manage at the end of their useful life: single-use, non-rechargeable lithium metal batteries and re-chargeable lithium-polymer cells (Li-ion, Li-ion cells).

Li-ion batteries are made of materials such as cobalt, graphite and lithium which are considered critical minerals. Critical minerals are raw materials that are economically and strategically important to the U.S., have a high risk of their supply being disrupted and for which there are no easy substitutes. When these batteries are disposed of in the trash, we lose these critical resources outright. For more information on critical minerals go to the U.S. Geological Survey website.

Additionally, if the battery or electronic device that contains the battery is disposed of in the trash or placed in the municipal recycling bin with household recyclables such as plastic, paper or glass, it may become damaged or crushed in transport or from processing and sorting equipment, creating a fire hazard.

Li-ion batteries, or those contained in electronic devices, should therefore be recycled at certified battery electronics recyclers that accept batteries rather than being discarded in the trash or put in municipal recycling bins.

Single-use, non-rechargeable batteries
  • Made with lithium metal and are commonly used in products such as cameras, watches, remote controls, handheld games and smoke detectors.
  • These batteries may be difficult to distinguish from common alkaline battery sizes, but can also have specialized shapes (e.g., button cells or coin batteries) for specific equipment, such as some types of cameras: look for the word “lithium” on the battery to help identify them.
 alkaline and zinc carbon batteries lithium battery
Rechargeable lithium-polymer cells (Li-ion, Li-ion cells)
  • Commonly found in cellphones, power tools, digital cameras, laptops, children’s toys, e-cigarettes, small and large appliances, tablets and e-readers.
  • Some Li-ion batteries can be removed easily from the products they power, others cannot.
 Re-chargeable lithium-polymer cells

Lithium-Ion Battery Disposal for Consumers

EPA recommendation: Find a location to recycle Li-ion batteries and products that contain Li-ion batteries using one of the suggested links; do not put them in the trash or municipal recycling bins.

Li-ion batteries in electronics: Send electronic devices containing Li-ion batteries to certified electronics recyclersparticipating retailers and recyclers in electronics takeback services or contact your local solid waste or household hazardous waste collection program for more options.

Li-ion batteries that are easily separated from the product (e.g., power tools): Find a recycling location near youto properly dispose of Li-ion batteries. Send individual batteries to specialized battery recyclers or retailers that are participating in takeback services or contact your local solid waste or household hazardous waste program for more options.

Two resources for finding a recycler are the Earth 911 database and Call2Recycle.

Handling precautions: Place each battery or device containing a battery in a separate plastic bag. Place non-conductive tape (e.g., electrical tape) over the battery’s terminals. If the Li-ion battery becomes damaged, contact the battery or device manufacturer for specific handling information. Even used batteries can have enough energy to injure or start fires. Not all batteries are removeable or serviceable by the user. Heed battery and product markings regarding safety and use.

Medium and Large-Scale Li-ion Battery Disposal

EPA recommendation: Contact the manufacturer, automobile dealer or company that installed the Li-ion battery for management options; do not put it in the trash or municipal recycling bins.

Because of the size and complexity of these battery systems, medium and large-scale Li-ion batteries may not be able to be removed by the consumer. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions and heed warnings and safety instructions.

  • Automobile: Contact the automobile dealer, shop or salvage yard where the battery was purchased.
  • Energy Storage: Contact the energy storage equipment manufacturer or company that installed the battery.

‘Avoid the Spark. Be Battery Safety Smart.’ Campaign

Due to the increase of fires at recycling and waste facilities across the country, industry groups have worked together to develop the ‘Avoid the Spark. Be Battery Safety Smart.’ campaign. This campaign seeks to educate the American consumer about battery safety and proper management of used Li-ion batteries. The main message of the campaign is that batteries can and should be recycled when they reach the end of their useful life. For more information go to Call2Recycle’s website EXIT.

Department of Transportation’s (DOT) “Check the Box” Campaign

The DOT’s “Check the Box” campaign is a public awareness campaign that seeks to prevent serious incidents by increasing public awareness of everyday items that are considered hazardous materials in transportation – this includes batteries that are packaged and sent for recycling or disposal. Batteries must be correctly identified, packaged, and labeled via package markings before being sent for recycling or disposal. For more information, go to DOT’s Check the Box campaign and check out the campaign video EXIT.

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Information for Businesses

Some lithium-ion batteries may meet the definition of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) if they exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste such as ignitability, reactivity or toxicity when they are disposed. Persons who generate wastes that are defined as hazardous under RCRA are referred to as “hazardous waste generators.” These regulations do not apply to households because under RCRA, hazardous wastes discarded by households are generally exempt from hazardous waste regulations. In contrast, commercial establishments are responsible for determining whether any waste they produce is hazardous waste, including Li-ion batteries at their end of life.

Lithium-ion batteries with different chemical compositions can appear nearly identical yet have different properties. In addition, some discarded Li-ion batteries are more likely to have hazardous properties if they contain a significant charge, yet such batteries can appear to the user to be completely discharged. For these reasons, it can be difficult for a generator to identify which of its waste Li-ion batteries are defined as hazardous waste when disposed. Therefore, where there is uncertainty, EPA recommends that businesses consider managing Li-ion batteries under the federal “universal waste” regulations in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 273.

The universal waste regulations provide a streamlined set of requirements for generators of specific types of common hazardous wastes (e.g., fluorescent lamps containing mercury, batteries) from a wide variety of commercial settings. Requirements differ depending on whether you accumulate less or more than 5,000 kg of total universal wastes on site at one time, but they include instructions on how to manage the waste, how to label containers, how long the waste can be accumulated on site, and where the waste can be sent, among others. Universal waste regulations do not require shipment using a hazardous waste manifest but do require that the waste be sent to a permitted hazardous waste disposal facility or a recycler. EPA recommends that businesses consult their state solid and hazardous waste agencies for additional information on applicable universal waste regulations.

An additional consideration, particularly for small businesses or those that generate small amounts of hazardous waste per month, are the RCRA “very small quantity generator” (VSQG) regulations. Li-ion batteries discarded by businesses that generate less than 100 kg (220 pounds) of hazardous waste per month are considered very small quantity generator waste and may be subject to reduced hazardous waste requirements. Prior to using the VSQG exemption, check with your state regulatory program, as they may have different requirements. Although EPA recommends that all batteries be managed under the universal waste standards, persons collecting or storing used Li-ion batteries from households or from VSQGs for the purposes of either exemption should keep them separate from other collected Li-ion batteries that are subject to more stringent requirements. Otherwise, they risk having the entire commingled collection subjected to the more stringent requirements (e.g., the streamlined universal waste requirements or the standard hazardous waste generator regulations).

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Information for Workers

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a Safety and Health Information Bulletin: Preventing Fire and/or Explosion Injury from Small and Wearable Lithium Battery Powered Devices. The Bulletin is advisory in nature, informational in content, and intended to educate workers and assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace.

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Information for Transporters

Department of Transportation (DOT) Hazardous Materials Regulations

Lithium batteries are hazardous materials and are subject to the Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR Parts 171–180). This includes packaging and standard hazard communication requirements (e.g., markings, labels, shipping papers, emergency response information) and hazmat employee training requirements. Hazard communication requirements are found in part 172 of the HMR and requirements specific to lithium batteries are found in 49 CFR section 173.185.

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Additional Resources

EPA-sponsored webinars on issues electronics recyclers and Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) are experiencing from Li-ion batteries:

Science Topics
Conservation & Sustainability, Electricity, Waste
Middle School, High School
6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade

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