How are batteries recycled in Australia

Take a look around the room you’re in. Chances are there are several devices that use batteries to power it – your remote control, your laptop, wireless keyboard and mouse, and the clock hung on the wall. The list goes on.

Batteries are still one of the most bought and sold products today in Australia and every year, an astonishing amount ends up in landfill. When used or old batteries accumulate and are incorrectly disposed of, they risk leaking chemicals, swelling and potentially short circuiting and sparking fire. These chemical risks pose a threat to you and your family as well as our environment – both from a pollution and mineral mining perspectives.

Recycling batteries help minimise these issues and forms part of tackling our national e-waste problem. Every battery that gets recycled over being thrown in a general waste bin counts. 

This article covers how different types of batteries are recycled in Australia. If you were looking for how to recycle your old batteries and book a collection, you might prefer our previous blog ’20 Types of Batteries You Can Recycle’ or our battery recycling service page.

How Australia tackles battery waste


There are a number of great initiatives that make it easier for Australians to recycle their batteries.

For example, ABRI (Australian Battery Recycling Initiative) is a not-for-profit association that promotes responsible environmental management of batteries at the end of life. ABRI is made up of a group of battery manufacturers, recyclers, retailers, government bodies, and environmental groups to promote the collection, recycling, and safe disposal of all batteries. 

As a member of ABRI, Ecoactiv provides low-cost and all year round battery recycling services for households and businesses in all states and cities in Australia. Consumers can choose to book online for an at-home or office collection for their batteries and a range of other items or purchase a battery recycling bucket to fill and have collected when full.

You can learn more about Ecoactiv’s Battery Recycling Services and Re-fillable Battery Buckets here.

Batteries have to be packaged correctly to be recycled


There’s a common misconception that old items, including batteries, can be placed all in a box or in a collection bin without any packaging.  Batteries are classed as dangerous goods and in some scenarios, can spark with other batteries that are in the same box or collection bin or explode while in transit.

For a lot of your household batteries, simply taping the terminals will avoid this issue altogether. This task takes just minutes but can help protect others who handle your batteries.

Sometimes batteries can swell, such as a swollen laptop battery, or leak before you get around to disposing of them. With these items, it is critical that you contact a specialist, obtain the correct packaging (these are usually insulated with protective materials), and properly dispose of these through a trusted recycling provider.

How are batteries recycled?


Once batteries are transported to and retrieved by an accredited recycler, they undergo a specific recycling process.

You may be asking, can you recycle ALL different types of batteries?

Yes, you can! 

Below is a brief description of how each major chemistry of the battery is recycled.


Lead Acid

Lead-acid batteries are commonly found in car batteries.

This type of battery is broken apart in a hammer mill – a machine that hammers the battery into pieces. These broken pieces are placed into a vat that separates the lead and heavy metals from plastics. At this point, the polypropylene pieces are scooped away and the liquids are drawn off, leaving the lead and heavy metals, each material goes into a different recycling stream.

Alkaline

Alkaline batteries are commonly found in digital cameras, toys flashlights and radios.

Alkaline batteries (AAA, AA, C, D 9V etc.) are put in specialized “room temperature” mechanical separation processes. The alkaline battery components are separated into three end products – zinc manganese concentrate, steel, and paper, plastic, and brass fractions. All of these products are put back into the marketplace for reuse in new products to offset the cost of the recycling process. 

Lithium-Ion

Lithium-ion batteries are commonly found in laptop chargers and power tools.

These batteries are recycled in a specialized “room temperature, oxygen-free” mechanical process during which the battery components are separated into three end products – 

  1. Cobalt & Lithium salt concentrate
  2. Stainless steel
  3. Copper, aluminium and plastic 

All these products are then put back on the market to be reused in new products

Nickel-Cadmium (NiCd)

Nickel-Cadmium or NiCd can be found in most rechargeable batteries.

Prior to the recycling process, plastics are separated from the metal components. The metals are then recycled through a high-temperature metal reclamation (HTMR) process during which all of the high-temperature metals contained within the battery feedstock (i,e. Nickel, iron, manganese, and chromium). These particles then report to the molten-metal bath within the furnace, amalgamate, then solidify during the casting operation. Lower melting metals (e.g. zinc and cadmium) separate during the melting. 

Both metals and plastic are then returned to be reused in new products.

Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH)

Nickel-Metal Hydrideor NiMH can be found in some handheld batteries used for devices including cameras, flashlights, and electronic toys.

Prior to its recycling process, plastics are removed from the cell portion. The cells go through a drying process to remove moisture from the cells. The drying process heats the cells in a time and temperature controlled manner via a proprietary and proven formula. Once these cells are dried they become a valuable feedstock for the stainless steel and or alloy manufacturing industries. These metals and plastics are to be reused in new products.

Lithium Batteries 

Lithium batteries the most common non-rechargeable handheld batteries you can purchase from the supermarket.

The contents of the batteries are exposed using a shredder or a high-speed hammer depending on battery size. The contents are then submerged in caustic water (basic, not acidic water). This solution neutralizes the electrolytes, and ferrous and non-ferrous metals are recovered. The clean scrap metal is then sold to metal recyclers to offset the cost of recycling these batteries. The solution is then filtered.

Carbon is recovered and pressed into moist sheets of carbon cake.

Mercury Batteries

Mercury batteries are often button-shaped and can often be found in watches, hearing aids, cameras, and calculators.

Mercury is extracted through a distillation process ready for re-utilisation.

Zinc Carbon Battery

Zinc Carbon Battery is another type of handheld single-use battery.

Zinc-carbon (AAA, AA, C, D 9V etc) and zinc-air batteries are recycled in the same way as alkaline batteries or by using high-temperature metal reclamation (HTMR) to elt the metals. These metals are then reused in new products.


Zinc-Air Battery

Zinc-air batteries are typically shaped like a coin and are used in hearing aids and some watches.

Zinc-carbon (AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, etc.) and zinc-air batteries are recycled in the same way as alkaline batteries or by using high-temperature metal reclamation (HTMR) method to melt the metals, These metals are then reused in new products.


Got Batteries to get rid of?

Tell us how many you have and we will give you a hassle-free solution based on your needs. 

For more information or a free quote, you can enquire about the different plans that are best suited to your needs.