The Dangerous Problem with Foreign Battery Recycling

Christine LellisRecycling Batteries

Many recycling customers mistakenly assume that once they hand their spent batteries off to a recycler, the batteries are disposed of safely and correctly. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

In recent years, some recyclers have started sending battery waste overseas to crude smelting facilities that don’t meet American environmental standards. This is causing extensive damage to humans and the environment.

To understand why, let’s back up a moment: Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel. If released, these metals are harmful to humans and the environment.

In order to keep these toxic materials out of landfills, the EPA has set strict limits on pollution. While these limits have prevented battery waste from ending up in US landfills, they’ve also made domestic recycling complicated and costly.

Consequently, some recyclers have resorted to sending battery waste to foreign recycling facilities in countries like Thailand and China. These countries offer cheap labor and have fewer, looser regulations around handling battery waste.

In the US, battery recycling takes place in high-tech, carefully monitored facilities. Workers wear protective clothing, and smokestack scrubbers prevent lead from being released into the surrounding community.

Fortunately this does not happen in every scenario, but sometimes in countries like Thailand and China the process may consist of little more than workers smashing batteries with a hammer and melting them down in a furnace.

Often, dangerous battery waste is not recycled at all but rather burned, dumped in landfills, or otherwise disposed of unsafely. Last year in China, for example, over 1.5 million tons of plastic was simply pushed into the ocean.

In addition to causing extensive harm to the environment, these practices put human lives at risk. Workers and local citizens may be exposed to harmful fumes and chemicals. Exposure to lead, for example, can cause kidney or brain damage, developmental problems, and even death.

Fortunately, there are steps American companies can take to ensure their batteries are recycled safely and responsibly:

  • Choose a recycler who uses EPA approved facilities. These facilities must meet certain standards for environmental and worker safety.
  • Ask for a recycling certificate. The recycling certificate will show the date of pick-up, the battery generator, the appropriate bill of lading and/or relevant job numbers, type of battery recycled, received weight, and EPA Identification number of the smelting facility. This is important for you to be able to prove your batteries were recycled in compliance with state and local laws.
  • Schedule your next pickup with Battery Recyclers of America. Our top priority is to provide a positive contribution to environmental sustainability. We make sure that your batteries are disposed, recycled, and smelted legally and safely. Call us at (800-508-6670) or contact our team to schedule a pickup.