Environmental Services: Which Battery To Throw And Which To Recycle


The recycling world can be confusing as the rules change often. One item that confuses a lot of people is which battery can be recycled and which battery can be tossed in the trash. This article will cover what can and cannot be thrown in the trash, a little background as to why, and where to take batteries that need to be recycled.

In the past, single-use batteries commonly found in households (AA, AAA, 9V, D-cell, Etc.) could not be throw in the trash mainly because they were created with chemicals and metals that were hazardous. Now, single-use alkaline batteries are created with common metals deemed non-hazardous by the federal government and can be thrown in the trash. One exception to this rule is the button cell battery found in a watch. The button cell battery is hazardous, dangerous, and should be disposed of like a rechargeable battery. 

Rechargeable batteries are the most important battery to recycle. They are manufactured with hazardous metals that can be harmful to the environment and dangerous if just thrown in the trash. There are many kinds of rechargeable batteries, such as nickel-metal hybrid and nickel-cadmium batteries and lithium batteries often found in electronics like cordless power tools, cellphones, and laptops, etc. The third rechargeable battery is lead-acid batteries that are less common at home and are more commonly found in emergency devices and automobiles.

Rechargeable batteries should never be thrown in your trash. When thrown into the trash, these batteries have the potential to get punctured or crushed which can damage the separation between the cathode and anode causing them to catch fire or explode in your trash, in the collection trucks, trailers that transport waste, and transfer station. On September 30, 2020, Friedman Recycling Facility in Rio Rancho experienced another fire at their facility caused by a lithium-ion battery. Morris Friedman, president of Friedman Recycling said, “Anytime there is a fire, it’s always upsetting. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory, we’re dealing with combustible products.” He also mentioned that they got lucky because only paper was burned, no equipment was lost, and no one was hurt.

Most recently, on March 16, Friedman Recycling encountered another fire at the facility. What was the cause? A lithium battery within a pile of recyclable materials.

“They’re batteries, mostly from telephones, iPad, other electronic devices that are becoming more and more prevalent in society,” said Morris Friedman. 

To help avoid fires, such as the ones at Friedman, we need to do our part by recycling rechargeable batteries at the right location.  Los Alamos County Eco Station accepts batteries from residents, during normal business hours. Battery recycling does not count against the 12 freeloads. The Eco Station is open Monday through Friday 8:00 am to 4:15 pm and Saturday through Sunday 9:00 am to 4:15 pm. For additional recycling questions, Environmental Services also recommends using the free app called Recycle Coach that can be downloaded to your smartphone or tablet. For any other questions, contact Environmental Services at 505-662-8163 or solidwaste@lacnm.us.