Northern Virginia Regional Commission

3040 Williams Drive, Suite 200
Fairfax, VA 22031
Monday to Friday: 8:30AM - 5:00PM

Main Telephone: 703-642-0700

Rechargeable Batteries

 

Rechargeable Battery Facts

  • Rechargeable batteries contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, nickel, cadmium, and mercury that are harmful to the environment and pose human health hazards.

  • Rechargeable batteries should be recycled or disposed of properly. 

  • The above image box shows typical equipment and electronic devices that use rechargeable batteries. 

  • The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation* (RBRC) offers Call2Recycle for free disposal of rechargeable batteries and cell phones for businesses and individuals. Businesses can support battery recycling by sponsoring* a dropoff box for free.  

  • More recycling information can be found on the Community Resources and Links page.

 

Types of Rechargeable Batteries and their Dangers

  • Nickel-Cadmium "NiCad"

    • NiCad batteries are the most hazardous because they contain cadmium. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal. NiCad batteries contain 6%-18% cadmium. If a NiCad battery is disposed in the regular trash and incinerated, human exposure can result from inhalation. Cadmium poisoning can cause metal fume fever, pneumonitis, pulmonary edema, and death. If a NiCad battery is disposed in the regular trash and landfilled, its contents can contaminate soil and groundwater. For more information, visit the US Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration information page.*

  • Nickel-Metal Hydride "NiMH"

    • While less hazardous than NiCad batteries, NiMH batteries contain potentially carcinogenic substances such as metal alloys containing nickel.

  • Lithium Ion "Li-Ion" 

    • Lithium Ion batteries, sometimes called "Li-Ion," are widely used because of their long life. However, when exposed to high temperatures or contaminated with other metals, they can rupture, ignite, or explode, posing serious risk to handlers and staff. In the event of fire, the smoke is particularly damaging to lungs.  

  • Lead-Acid 

    • Lead-Acid batteries are the oldest type of rechargeable batteries. Lead is a highly poisonous heavy metal. If Lead-Acid batteries are improperly disposed or stored, the gas-venting valves can fail, causing explosion or fire. If the battery casing is ruptured, acid and shrapnel can be sprayed around the area. One explosion like this can ignite other cells within the battery or other nearby batteries

Rechargeable batteries are typically found in these devices:

Cordless and cell phones
 

Rechargeable Battery Management Strategy

Conducting a Workplace Assessment for Rechargeable Battery Management

  • The safe storage and management of rechargeable batteries is important to minimize the risk of contamination in your workplace

  • Survey how many items your business uses that require rechargeable batteries--if you have an equipment change-out planned, include that in your estimate

  • Explore other recycling options and resources available for businesses and responsible recycling

  • Educate your maintenance and technical staff about how to implement the management strategy--inform them of the importance of recovering all batteries

  • Coordinate storage, packaging, and shipping logistics with appropriate staff (building engineers, information technology or audio-visual specialists, maintenance workers, custodial staff, etc.)

  • Kick-off the management program with an informational meeting with participants to recruit their support

  • Periodically review the program to evaluate its effectiveness and to make improvements

 

Safe Storage and Handling of Batteries

This and other information on safe storage and handling of batteries can be seen in the Know Toxics Universal Waste & Used Electronics Training Manual, pages 9-10.

A handler of universal waste batteries must manage them in a way that prevents releases to the environment. Handlers of universal waste batteries must ensure that the casing of each individual battery cell is not breached (cells may be opened to remove electrolyte). If a battery cell or casing is breached, it must be managed as hazardous waste.

 

Containers of universal waste batteries must be properly labeled, structurally sound, and compatible with the contents of the stored material. It is recommended to add the date to the label since handlers of universal waste can only store material on-site for up to one year.

 

It is highly recommended that battery terminals be insulated to avoid electrical discharge during storage and transportation. This must be done using non-electrical duct tape, as metallic duct tape can easily cause reaction or fire.

 

*External link. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission does not author third party sites and their reference is for educational purposes only.

 

Resources and Regulations

DEQ Regulations

More Resources

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