selection of small household batteries

Small cell or button cell batteries power our remotes, watches, and medical devices like hearing aids. But knowing how to recycle them is not easy. The rules keep changing and the guidance is different depending on where you live. To help make it a bit easier, we put together a list of companies that offer mail-in programs for recycling household and hearing aid batteries.

But first, a little about why recycling batteries is such a challenge.

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Why is recycling small household and hearing aid batteries so confusing?

Some recycling programs may tell you that alkaline batteries (AA, AAA, 9-volt, C, and D-cell) are okay for your trash bin because they’re no longer made with mercury in them. But waste management providers, like Republic Services, say to never put batteries in your trash or curbside recycling.

Batteries be a fire hazard in the trash since their residual energy can cause sparks. And in some states, it’s illegal to put batteries in the trash. Some have laws requiring battery manufacturers to support recycling programs. This map by Call2Recycle shows which states regulate battery recycling and their rules.

No wonder the proper disposal of household batteries is so confusing.

There are many different types of household batteries and they contain varying amounts of chemicals and heavy metals. Some have precious metals in them that can be recovered and reused, reducing the emissions and environmental impact of mining more. All batteries contain chemicals that can be damaging, some more than others. None of these are good for the environment.

Bottom line: We should always properly dispose of batteries. Follow the recycler’s instructions on how they want to receive the batteries, including putting tape on the terminals of certain battery types.

Go rechargeable — a planet-friendlier alternative to disposable batteries

The first step to reducing battery waste is to go rechargeable. In the long run, using these for your household and medical devices is a lot less costly for you and the environment. Rechargeable batteries are available for any type of small appliance, including medical devices. When it comes to hearing aid batteries, one charge lasts a lot longer than a disposable battery.

Once your rechargeable or disposable batteries no longer work, it’s important to recycle them. Using a reliable recycler is the best way to know your dead batteries are disposed of correctly, are not harming the environment, and that materials that can be recycled are captured. The Earth911 recycling search tool can help you find a battery drop-off location near you (just enter your ZIP code). Read on to learn about mail-in recycling options.

Mail-in programs for household and small cell batteries

Mail-in battery recycling programs will charge a fee. There are a few reasons for this. Part of the cost is for the materials they provide you to safely store and ship batteries when your container is full. Other costs are from making sure containers and shipping meet federal regulations for hazardous materials to prevent contamination and fire. The program should provide detailed return instructions, and the cost should include the return shipping fee.

Hearing aid batteries are small, but because you use them regularly they can add up. You may be able to send them back to the manufacturer. Before you pay for a mail-in program, check the package your batteries came in. The manufacturer may have a recycling program or information on how to recycle their products. You can also ask your hearing aid provider if they know of the best way to recycle the types of batteries you use in your device.

The mail-in programs we found generally take most common types of rechargeable batteries and some disposables, like hearing aid batteries.

Mail-in battery recycling programs

The materials used to make batteries, whether they are disposable or rechargeable, can be used again. But different types of batteries require different processes to recycle them. It depends on the chemicals and metals they contain. So every program is going to be a little different in what they accept, depending on their process.

  • Call2Recycle offers battery and cell phone mail-in boxes for purchase. When the box is full, you simply ship it back. They take various sizes of household batteries, as well as cell phones. They do not take single-use alkaline batteries. Their small boxes start at $45 and hold 20-25 pounds. Their largest size holds 40-50 pounds. They also offer bigger sizes for business and commercial use.
  • Big Green Box has a similar program where you buy the box and the price includes the return shipping. Their programs start with a mini for $36 that holds up to 10 pounds. They take alkaline disposable batteries and many other household types. Check their list for batteries you commonly use and need to recycle.
  • Battery Solutions offers iRecycle Kits that start at $59.95 for 10-pound buckets with sizes up to 55 pounds. They also offer large tube solutions that work in office spaces and drums for big jobs. Their program accepts single-use alkaline and household batteries as well as small electronics, including cell phones, tablets, and earbuds.
  • Lamp Master Mailback Recycling offers large volume recycling with their Dry Cell Battery Recycling Kit that starts at 1-gallon sizes for $84.95. They also offer 2.5- and 5-gallon dry cell battery recycling kits, as well as button cell kits for recycling batteries that power small devices like hearing aids.

Not all mail-in programs accept single-use alkaline batteries. Make sure to read their acceptable materials list. Rechargeable batteries are easier for manufacturers to recycle and repurpose the materials, so these are more commonly accepted.

Have a plan for what you will do with used batteries

You may have other options for recycling your batteries besides fee-based mail-in programs. Your community might offer battery recycling drop-off opportunities — perhaps at e-waste events. Most office supply and electronics retailers offer battery recycling — but they can be limited to rechargeable batteries. Use Earth911 recycling search to locate drop-off locations near you.

Also, watch for community-specific recycling efforts like RecycleMyBattery drop-boxes, or subscription recycling services like Ridwell (currently serving the Seattle, Portland, Denver, Twin Cities, and Austin areas) that will pick up your hard to recycle items, including batteries.

Whether you use disposables or rechargeables, make sure you have a plan for recycling used batteries when they no longer hold a charge. Have a designated container to collect them and do your research ahead of time so you know where to mail or drop off the batteries when your container is full. Having a plan and keeping old batteries organized will prevent you from defaulting to the trash bin when you don’t have time to figure out where else to put them.

By Jen Thilman

Jen Thilman is a freelance writer who lives in the Central Valley of California. She has been a recycling guru most of her life and is passionate about helping people understand its importance and how to do it right. Find out more at jenthilman.com.