Rethink Batteries


Batteries power our daily lives, whether we realize it or not. They help us power through daily chores and activities, stay connected with one another, and they can even help shine a light on some dark situations. In fact—nearly every electronic device that we own has a battery that requires proper handling. And whether your batteries are single-use alkaline, rechargable, or lithium-ion—they all eventually reach the end of their life. 

It’s time to take charge of your battery disposal and learn how you can help make a positive environmental impact with your actions.


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WHY DOES PROPER BATTERY DISPOSAL MATTER?

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Batteries that find their way into our black garbage carts end up in our local landfill. After a little time, they can corrode and allow harmful chemicals to leach into the soil and make their way into our water supply.

Batteries can also cause landfill fires which release toxic chemicals into the air, leading to potential health problems for anyone who inhales those fumes. Help make a positive impact on our environment by not disposing of used batteries in your garbage. Instead, explore the different battery disposal methods below.

DID YOU KNOW 3 billion batteries are thrown away and end up in landfills every year?

SAFETY IMPACT

DID YOU KNOW chemicals in batteries can cause everything from serious skin irritation to cancer?

Batteries that end up in our blue recycling carts are brought to the Shoreway Environmental Center. In 2016 a battery started a 4-alarm fire that closed the facility for months and caused millions of dollars in damages.

In fact, lithium-ion batteries have caused concerns for many consumer products such as cell phones, laptops, and headphones that explode or catch on fire. Properly disposing of your batteries and taping your battery terminals can help keep your home and community safe.


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Which types of batteries should I be on the look out for?


WHY ARE BATTERIES CONSIDERED HOUSEHOLD HAZARDOUS WASTE?

Used batteries can still hold a charge which classifies them as household hazardous waste

Household hazardous waste are items that contain chemicals. If these products are handled or disposed of incorrectly they can contaminate our soil, drinking water, and air. They can also pose a threat to human health, animals, and the environment. In California, it is illegal to dispose of household hazardous waste in the garbage or recycling, down the drain, or by abandonment. This includes your household batteries listed above.

DID YOU KNOW 5.8 lithium-ion batteries are found  improperly disposed of on the recycling sort line every hour?


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OPTIONS FOR PROPER BATTERY DISPOSAL AVAILABLE TO YOU

I am a resident who lives in a home participating in the 3-cart curbside program

Residents that live in a single-family home, townhome, duplex, triplex or an apartment or condominium building with 4 units or less and participate in the curbside pickup program have an easy, simple, and FREE way to properly dispose of your household batteries.

STEP 1: COLLECT IT!
Do you have used batteries collecting in a drawer somewhere in your home? Collect ALL your household batteries that no longer carry a charge.
STEP 2: TAPE IT!
Prevent battery fires by taping over lithium-ion and 9-volt battery terminals with clear tape.  The terminals, or exposed metal parts, of certain batteries can rub together creating a spark.
STEP 3: BAG IT!
Put all your batteries into a clear plastic zip-top bag. Properly seal the bag to ensure no batteries fall out.
STEP 4: PLACE IT!
Place the sealed bag on top of your black garbage cart on your regular collection day. The Recology San Mateo County collection team will take the batteries for proper and safe disposal.

Which batteries are and aren’t accepted in curbside collection program?

We will accept all single-use, rechargeable, and lithium-ion household batteries. Lead acid and car batteries are not accepted. These should be taken to Shoreway Environmental Center or San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program.

Battery Collection Locations

There are also over 20 convenient and free drop-off locations within the RethinkWaste service area where you can take your household batteries. See the map below. Please call the location before heading out to make sure they are open and if there is a limit.

I am a resident who lives in an apartment or condominium with 5 units or more

Residents that live in an apartment or condominium with 5 units or more have 3 free and simple options available for safe and proper battery disposal.

OPTION #1: Orange battery buckets

Some apartments or condominiums participate in our battery bucket program. These orange buckets, as pictured below, are normally found in common areas such as a lobby, multi-use room, mailroom, or club house. To use it, follow the below easy and simple steps:

STEP 1: COLLECT IT!
Do you have used batteries collecting in a drawer somewhere in your home? Collect ALL your household batteries that no longer carry a charge.
STEP 2: TAPE IT!
Prevent battery fires by taping over lithium-ion and 9-volt battery terminals with clear tape. The terminals, or exposed metal parts, of certain batteries can rub together creating a spark.
STEP 3: BAG IT!
Put all your batteries into a clear plastic zip-top bag. Properly seal the bag to ensure no batteries fall out.
STEP 4: PLACE IT!
Place the sealed bag in your orange bucket.

No Bucket? No Problem!

If you don’t see one at your location, ask your property manager or owner to get a bucket for your building(s) from Recology San Mateo County for free! Please note that only property managers/owners can request a bucket and coordinate pickups.

OPTION #2: Battery Drop-Off

There are over 20 convenient and free drop-off locations within the RethinkWaste service area. See the map below. Please call the location before heading out to make sure they are open and if there is a limit.

OPTION #3: San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Program

Dispose of all your toxic waste (including your batteries) with the County. Click here for a list of all accepted HHW items. San Mateo County’s HHW Program is a free recycling and disposal service for all County residents by appointment only. To participate, you must schedule an appointment at smchealth.org/hhw or call (650) 363-4718, select option 3.

I am a small business owner or manager

Small businesses that generate less than 220 pounds or 27 gallons of hazardous waste per month may contact San Mateo County’s Very Small Quantity Generator (VSQG) Program for more information on business hazardous waste disposal by calling (650) 372-6200 or at smchealth.org/vsqg.

Battery FAQs

We’ve received lots of battery related questions and wanted to share the answers with our RethinkWaste community. Click here to find the battery answers you’ve been looking for.

Where can I get additional orange battery bags for the curbside battery program?

For Recology’s curbside battery collection program, you may use any clear zip-top bag to place your household batteries in.

If you would like to use the orange collection bags, click here for a list of locations where you may pick one up. Please check with the location to see if it is open first. Due to current Shelter-in-Place orders, many local city halls and RethinkWaste and Recology’s administrative offices are closed.

Which batteries are the most dangerous?

Lithium-ion batteries contain more power than other batteries and are delicately packaged. When damaged, the battery can short out, heat up, and catch on fire as seen in the video below. Click here to learn more about lithium batteries and the types of products they can be found in.

Why is taping battery terminals helpful?

Bagging and taping batteries helps because covering the terminals prevents batteries from rubbing together and creating a spark. Residents should tape terminals with clear tape and store batteries in a plastic bag before proper disposal. See how to properly tape your used batteries in the video below.

Why do I have to use clear tape to tape my battery terminals?

Clear tape (like the small rolls you use at home or packaging tape) is essential for our team to properly sort the different battery types. Because there are quite a few different types of batteries that need to be sorted by chemistry make up, clear tape allows us to read the various labels and ensure the correct battery gets placed with its friends. Dark tape like electrical or duct tape would prevent us from reading the labels clearly.

Are rechargeable batteries better than single-use batteries?

Rechargeable batteries are reusable, resulting in reduced waste and cost. However, reusable batteries contain more chemicals than single-use alkaline batteries, so you must remember to handle them with care.

What types of bags can I put my batteries in?

You may place your used batteries in any clear zip-top bag.

Why can’t I place my batteries with my other recyclables?

Batteries contain materials/metals that can be recycled, but not in the normal way your blue cart materials are recycled. Since batteries contain chemicals and potentially leftover charge, they must go through a separate process to safely extract the valuable materials inside.

What are the most common products that people mistakenly think don’t have batteries but actually do?

Some of the most common items that people forget have batteries are the smaller everyday things that have lights such as light-up or musical greeting cards, light-up shoes, and even light-up pens. If you’re not sure whether a product has a battery, a good rule of thumb is to remember that nearly every electronic device that has an on/off switch, makes sounds, or has lights, has a battery.

What do I do with my lead-acid batteries from cars or computers?

Lead-acid batteries are accepted at the Shoreway Public Recycling Center for proper disposal.

What do I do with products that have embedded (not easily removable) batteries such as mobile phones, toothbrushes and/or razors?

It’s best if you can remove the battery safely from the device. If you cannot, e-waste items with batteries such as laptops, cell phones, and MP3 players can be taken to the Shoreway Public Recycling Center in San Carlos free of charge. Other items with embedded lithium-ion batteries such as toothbrushes, razors, and vape pens should be properly disposed of via San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program. You can make an appointment online at smchealth.org/hhw.

Where do batteries go and what happens to them?

Batteries that are properly collected get sent to a third-party that sorts the batteries by type and then they safely extract the valuable metals inside.

Ask The Battery Expert

Have a battery question that’s not listed above? Get answers by asking our battery expert. Simply fill out the form below!

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