Understanding Recycling Batteries

 

10.06.2016

0800

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Recycling Car Batteries Link

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Processing Alkaline Batteries Link

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Recycling Lithium Batteries Link

I question the honesty of how items are recycled (especially electronics) and to be more informed is always better. The next series of posts I’m going to post up with cover a small section of the majority of materials that are deemed recyclable. Although the concept of recycling seems like a savior process for all items- it really isn’t. There are uncomfortable truths that the public is not informed about. I hope these next posts will be helpful for those who are seeking more information.

In a nutshell, batteries vary in how they are recycled. Batteries range from lead acid based to alkaline, lithium ion, nickel, zinc and even mercury batteries. Here is an overall information haul about the variety of them but I also included links to some recycling processes under the infographics above. I always hear mixed reviews as to what actually happens to batteries when we recycle them and this is why I thought I should post some information. I tend to use more alkaline and lithium batteries in my day to day life, so those infographics apply more to me. Hopefully this will bring some more information to you as you come into contact with your day to day electronics that use batteries.

  1. Lead Acid– The battery is broken apart in a hammer mill, a machine that hammers the battery into pieces. The broken battery pieces are then placed into a vat, where the lead and heavy materials fall to the bottom and the plastic floats. At this point, the polypropylene pieces are scooped away and the liquids are drawn off, leaving the lead and heavy metals. Each of the materials goes into a different recycling “stream”.
    1. Plastic- Polypropylene pieces are washed, blown dry and sent to a plastic recycler where the pieces are melted together into an almost liquid state. The molten plastic is put through an extruder that produces small plastic pellets of a uniform size. The pellets are put back into manufacturing battery cases and the process begins again.
    2. Lead- Lead grids, lead oxide and other lead parts are cleaned and heated within smelting furnaces. The molten melted lead is then poured into ingot molds. After a few minutes, the impurities float to the top of the still molten lead in the ingot molds. These impurities are scraped away and the ingots are left to cool. When the ingots are cool, they’re removed from the molds and sent to battery manufacturers, where they’re re-melted and used in the production of new batteries.
    3. Sulfuric Acid- Old battery acid can be handled in two ways:
      1. The acid is neutralized with an industrial compound similar to household baking soda. Neutralization turns the acid into water. The water is then treated, cleaned, tested in a wastewater treatment plant to be sure it meets clean water standards.
      2. The acid is processed and converted to sodium sulfate, an odorless white powder that’s used in laundry detergent, glass and textile manufacturing.Lead acid batteries are closed-loop recycled, meaning each part the the old batteries is recycled into a new battery. It is estimated that 98% of all lead acid batteries are recycled.
  2. Alkaline batteries– Alkaline batteries such as (AAA, AA, C, D, 9V, etc.) are recycled in a specialized “room temperature,” mechanical separation process where the battery components are separated into three end products. These items are a zinc and manganese concentrate, steel, and paper, plastic and brass fractions. All of these products are put back into the market place for reuse in new products to offset the cost of the recycling process. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  3. Lithium Ion– Prior to the recycling process, plastics are separated from the metal components. The metals are then recycled via 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) report to the molten-metal bath within the furnace, amalgamate, then solidify during the casting operation. The low-melt metals (i.e. zinc) separate during the melting. The metals and plastic are then returned to be reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  4. Nickel-Cadmium- Prior to the recycling process, plastics are separated from the metal components. The metals are then recycled via 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) report to the molten-metal bath within the furnace, amalgamate, then solidify during the casting operation. The low-melt metals (i.e. zinc and cadmium) separate during the melting. The metals and plastic are then returned to be reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  5. Nickel Metal Hydride– Prior to the recycling process, the plastics are removed from the cell portion. The cells go through a drying process to remove moisture (potassium hydroxide (KOH) electrolyte and H2O) 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.  The metals and plastic are then returned to be reused in new products. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  6. Lithium Batteries– 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 (basic not acidic) water. This caustic 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. The carbon is recovered and pressed into moist sheets of carbon cake. Some of the carbon is recycled with cobalt. The lithium in the solution (lithium hydroxide) is converted to lithium carbonate, a fine white powder. What results is technical grade lithium carbonate, which is used to make lithium ingot metal and foil for batteries. It also provides lithium metal for resale and for the manufacture of sulfur dioxide batteries.

  7. Mercury Batteries– The batteries and heavy metals are recovered through a controlled-temperature process. It’s important to note: the percentage of mercuric oxide batteries is decreasing since the passage of the Mercury-Containing Rechargeable Battery Management Act (The Battery Act) of 1996. This act prohibits, or otherwise conditions, the sale of certain types of mercury-containing batteries (i.e., alkaline manganese, zinc carbon, button cell mercuric-oxide and other mercuric-oxide batteries) in the United States.

  8. Zinc-Carbon– 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. These batteries are 100% recycled.

  9. Zinc-Air– 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. These batteries are 100% recycled.

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No Batteries Please

 

07.27.2016

0800

So, I’m not allowed to own products with batteries. It’s actually a rule I’ve laid out for myself. I’m not the most reliable person to keep track of what items need new batteries so it’s just a lot easier for me to not own items that need them. On top of that, I don’t like using a product and then realizing that the product is loosing power, and then decides to stop completely. I’m just not good at owning those types of products. I also hate keeping track of what kinds of batteries I need on hand.

On the other hand, I do own items that included a rechargeable battery when I first purchased them. These products include my Nikon DSLR camera, laptop, ipad and iphone. With those products, I know the battery will eventually give out, which is why I’m almost considering to not purchase another ipad after this one. I can imagine my life without my ipad, but we will see what the future holds. I know that with every iphone and ipad model, there will always be a newer and “more efficient” model to come, and I’m not sure how much I want to keep up with it. It’s that decision between what I need versus what I want in my life.

The reason for this rule, is because I tend to forget about the products that had batteries in them, and the batteries end up corroding through their shell, which subsequently destroys the integrity of the product. I’ve had to say goodbye to quite a few products over the years due to this lack of attention to my things. But now, I currently own three products that require alkaline or lithium batteries, which includes my television remote control, my car key FOB and my Fitbit. The Fitbit and the key FOB require Lithium button batteries and the remote control requires alkaline. I do own a DVD player but I don’t currently keep batteries in my DVD remote control and it’s used very infrequently, so I don’t really deplete my battery supply for it. When I do use it, I’ll actually install two AAA batteries as needed then remove them when I’m done. I pretty much only have to pay attention to my television remote control and replace those batteries on time. I keep four extra AAA batteries in my emergency kit but no button batteries. I do have an extra emergency radio/clock that I keep in my emergency kit but it requires two AAA batteries which I don’t keep in it. If I ever need to use it in an emergency, I’ll insert the AAA batteries when I need to. Also, if I really need another button battery, I’ll just go out to get it. I might actually stop using the Fitbit for awhile just so that I don’t have to buy button batteries for it. I’ve considered not using my key FOB, but when winter rolls around, the parking lot around my job gets really dark and I’m slightly wary about walking out to my car alone. I’d prefer to be able to hit a panic button to attract attention to myself with the tool. I have opted out of using it during the rest of the year though.

I have a wind up flashlight as well as a solar powered clock/radio in my emergency kit, which work pretty well. I use a Seiko Women’s Stainless Steel Analog watch, which has automatic self wind movement through my body movements. This means:

  1.  The watch does not contain a battery and is powered solely by the movement of your arm while you’re wearing the watch. If you don’t wear the watch for long enough every day, you won’t provide enough power to keep the watch running.
  2. An automatic watch is less precise than a quartz (battery powered) watch, therefore the time can be off as much as 10 seconds per day. So even if you keep your watch powered up, you’ll probably have to adjust the time every now and then.

I do love that my life became simpler and when I stopped buying so many batteries for so many different products, it was one errand that I could cross off my list and not worry about.

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My Emergency Kit

04.04.2016

0845

I have a small emergency kit and most of it is pictured here. In any emergency, it’s always a good idea to keep certain items on hand and ready at a moment’s notice.

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In my small electronics bag: (green flowered bag)

  • Small battery operated radio and clock
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Extra AAA batteries
  • Flashlight/hand crank radio accessories

In my first aid kit:

  • Gauze
  • Medical tape
  • Styptic pencil
  • Mercury- Free Oral Thermometer
  • Compact scissors
  • Bandage

Items that are not pictured are:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food

I also have a flashlight/hand crank radio, butane lighter with butane gas refill and candles. I use bandanas as dust masks to help filter contaminated air.

This is just a simple overview of what I have in my emergency kit for living in the city that I live in. Understandably, the most common natural disaster in my area are earthquakes, so preparing for all natural disasters wouldn’t make any sense. Depending on each family’s’ dynamic, this kit is essentially  for only one person. There are a lot of websites out on the internet that suggest to have a large emergency kit at all times, but ironically, my kit is based on FEMA’s outline. (you can find it HERE). All of the items listed may not apply to you but the list is a comprehensive one. Due to the fact that I’ve experienced a few earthquakes in my life, these items are exactly what I need in case of an emergency. It’s a slim and small kit, but it has been working for me. This post was to simply give an overview of what I keep in my kit.

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