When it comes to recycling, Americans are much more likely to take the green route with household items like aluminum cans and plastic bottles than they are with electronics. In fact, only 31 percent of people recycle single-use batteries, while more than 70 percent recycle steel, plastic and paper items, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos Marketing on behalf of Call2Recycle. Why the disparity when it comes to recycling batteries? Let’s take a look at one simple solution.

Recycling batteries, in a box

Tossing a milk jug into a blue bin is easier than hunting down an electronics recycler … or at least that was true until The Big Green Box began.

A program from Retriev Technologies, a company that offers environmentally sound battery recycling, The Big Green Box involves just three steps for recycling batteries: buy it, fill it, ship it. Here’s how it works:

  • Buy it. Purchase the Big Green Box at a low flat rate (prices start at $63). It will be shipped to your home or office and will come completely assembled. Place it wherever is most convenient for you or your co-workers/employees to toss used batteries.
  • Fill it. Inside the Big Green Box, you’ll find a set of plastic bags. As batteries and other electronic devices are used up, simply place the individual items in a separate bag — the bags prevent unintentional discharges or short circuits — and set them inside the box.
  • Ship it. Once your Big Green Box is full, or a year has passed since placing the first item into the box, drop it off at your local FedEx location or call 1-800-Go-FedEx to have your box picked up from your home or place of business for no charge. The batteries will end up at an EPA-permitted facility for proper end-of-life management.
The Big Green Box: Recycling batteries just got easier!
The Big Green Box is a convenient way to make sure batteries are properly managed at the end of their life. Call it recycling batteries, in a box.

Bunches of batteries

Although the box is one-size-fits-all, recycling batteries is not. Retriev Technologies has processes in place for all the following:

  • Alkaline batteries: Alkaline batteries are made primarily of zinc, manganese dioxide and steel, all of which can be made into new products. The batteries are shredded to separate the steel casing from the zinc and manganese active materials.
  • NiCd and NiMH batteries: Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) and Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries include nickel, cadmium (in NiCd only) and iron. Cadmium is a hazardous substance that can cause serious bodily harm if not properly captured, so Retriev uses a pyrometallurgical process for component separation.
  • Lithium ion batteries: Li-Ion batteries typically consist of cobalt and copper and may have nickel, aluminum and iron. The batteries are processed through an automated crusher, which operates under a liquid solution to prevent fugitive emissions and to reduce the reactivity of the processed batteries. The result is a metal-enriched liquid and metal solids, which can be reused in new products.
  • Lithium metal batteries: These highly reactive batteries are pre-treated using a proprietary cryogenic process to lessen their reactivity and to allow for further processing. They then go through an automated crusher that results in metal solids and lithium-enriched liquid.
  • Lead acid batteries: These batteries primarily consist of lead metal and plastic casings. The lead plates are removed from the plastic casing using an automated physical separation technology; the lead is eventually reused in new batteries and the plastic goes to recyclers to incorporate into new products.

In addition to batteries, The Big Green Box is designed to take small portable electronics such as cellphones, MP3 players, tablets, handheld power tools and miniature laptops or computers.

Order your own Big Green Box, and do your part to make recycling batteries just as convenient as any other kind of recycling.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Retriev Technologies is one of these partners.

By Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of publications, covering everything from sustainability to fitness to travel. Read more of her work here.