Household battery recycling

Is it worth recycling your AAAs and 9Vs?

Recycling logo and used batteries

It’s a Zen-like riddle: what’s banned from kerbside bins but can still be recycled? The batteries powering your TV remote, garage door opener, hearing aid, watch and little Suzie’s remote-control car.

If these batteries are tossed out with your kerbside rubbish or recycling, the hazardous substances they contain could cause a fire in the collection truck or the recycling plant. If they end up in the landfill, these substances may leak out and into surrounding soil and ground water.

Battery disposal options

So if they don’t belong in household bins, where should they go? You’ll have to drop them off either at a hazardous waste collection site – typically located at your council’s transfer station or landfill – or with a battery recycling scheme (see our Table).

If you choose the former, the batteries are treated to stabilise them. They’re often encased in concrete, which then goes to landfill, to prevent them leaching.

A major issue is there are no companies capable of recycling batteries in New Zealand – they have to be shipped overseas, often to Australia or Japan.

However, landfill isn’t the best option as some substances in household batteries are rare and valuable. If we want to make the switch to electric cars, we’ll need to preserve metals such as lithium, as it powers the vehicles’ rechargeable batteries. Demand for lithium saw the average US price double between 2016 and 2018.

Unfortunately, battery recycling is still in its infancy here. An estimated 0.2% of household batteries purchased across the country are recovered and re-processed to make new products, according to a 2013 report.

A major issue is there are no companies capable of recycling batteries in New Zealand – they have to be shipped overseas, often to Australia or Japan.

This means batteries collected here aren’t guaranteed to be recycled any time soon. Many types are being stored at central depots until recycling becomes financially viable (see our Table). Companies we spoke to said this will require an affordable overseas recycler that accepts the battery and sufficient quantities for shipping or an onshore plant.

Free or fee?

The majority of the 77 drop-off points we surveyed accept batteries at no charge. Seventeen always charge a fee, typically by weight. If you’re being asked to part with cash and the reason for the charge isn’t clear, ask what the money’s used for.

Most schemes accept all 10 types of household batteries, despite the issues with recycling viability. This makes it easier for consumers, so they don’t have to try to tell a non-rechargeable lithium battery from a rechargeable lithium-ion one.

There are a few exceptions: Nelson City Council’s service centre and transfer station, Tasman District Council transfer stations and Raglan’s Xtreme Zero Waste facility only accept specific types of battery.

Battery recycling schemes

Please select your region from the drop-down list.

GUIDE TO THE TABLE Drop-off points listed in alphabetical order, by region. Exporting e-waste is a permitted activity and companies currently exporting batteries were asked for confirmation of permits. Drop-off points were not included if export permits were not confirmed. Table does not include annual waste collection events. STORED indicates batteries stored at central depot (Abilities in Auckland, E-Cycle in Auckland, Ecotech in Christchurch or IT Recycla in Auckland and Wellington) for recycling at an unspecified future date. Kawerau and Ruapehu District Councils and the Whanganui Resource Recovery Centre store batteries at own facilities. ᴬlithium iron phosphate batteries not collected. ᴮservice for residents only.

What’s in your battery?

Whether cylindrical (such as your AA or AAA), rectangular (9V) or round, household batteries often contain flammable or toxic substances. Although cylindrical and rectangular batteries typically list the chemicals they’re made from, this is rarer on button-shaped varieties.

And don’t forget your glasses – of batteries that list their substances, this is typically in very small print.

Here’s our guide to the contents:

Disposable

Cylindrical: alkaline, lithium, silver oxide, zinc carbon, zinc chloride

Rectangular: alkaline, lithium, zinc carbon, zinc chloride

Button: alkaline, lithium, mercuric oxide (also known as mercury oxide)

Hearing aid: mercuric oxide, zinc air

Rechargeable

Cylindrical: lithium-ion (also known as Li-ion), nickel cadmium (also known as NiCd), nickel metal hydride (also known as NiMH)

Rectangular: nickel metal hydride (also known as NiMH)

Hearing aid batteries

Many audiology companies collect hearing aid batteries – but no other kinds – for recycling. You can drop these off for free at the following:

  • Bay Audiology
  • Dilworth Hearing
  • New Zealand Hearing clinics
  • Triton Hearing

“Free from” claims

We examined the environmental claims you might spot on a packet of household batteries.

“Zero mercury” or “zero percent mercury”: Button-shaped and hearing aid batteries may contain mercury, which is a toxic heavy metal. It’s rarer for AA or AAA batteries (some of which carry this claim) to contain the substance, as manufacturers phased out its use.

“No cadmium”: Cadmium is another heavy metal used in rechargeable batteries. We spotted this claim on single-use batteries, which never contain cadmium, and think it could potentially mislead consumers. We’d call this a case of greenwashing.

“No lead”: Lead is primarily found in vehicle batteries. We found this promo on a pack of single-use AAA – again, we suspect this has the potential to mislead consumers about the materials used by other brands.

“Earth friendly: zero added toxic substances”: This claim was on a pack of zinc carbon batteries. Zinc is a common metal and isn’t as hazardous as some other substances found in batteries, but it doesn’t get a complete pass. The land and water around rubbish dumps is routinely tested for 27 substances and compounds, including zinc, to monitor for adverse environmental effects.

Member comments

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John R.
16 Oct 2019
Well after time to dispose of these environmentally

Having spent a good few years in Switzerland where all sellers of batteries are required by law to collect on behalf of manufacturers who are mandated to recycle, waiting for New Zealand to legislate for a similar requirement here. Sure there are some who would pooh-pooh this rather like an iridescent light-bulb phase-out, but there is simply nothing bad in making this pollution history by requiring the manufactures and sellers clean up theirs acts.

Kerry M.
13 Oct 2019
Battery Recycling

we had a dead battery from a stick vacuum. Rang the local council (Waipa). They said we don't know, ring your rubbish collection company. Rand the head office in Hamilton. "Ring you local transfer station". Transfer station said we don't recycle batteries, so the battery went into the weekly rubbish collection???

Karen H.
12 Oct 2019
Drop off points for Batteries

I have just returned from the UK. and most of the supermarkets were we were staying accepted batteries.
this supermarkets in the UK have been doing this for a little while now.
as we are supposed to be this clean green country, then why has it taken so long to catch up with the rest of the world?
most people use the supermarket at least once a fortnight, this would be an ideal drop off point.

Cindi S.
12 Oct 2019
Where to recycle ?

Surely the Council Hazardous Waste section should include a Batts Bin.
Why the supermarkets ? Should we give them our used milk bottles as well ??
Yes, users may have to pay for discarding batts. They used & enjoyed them, so why not. Council rates already stretched.

The sooner we all get onto rechargeables, the less we discard & pollute.

Allan L.
02 Oct 2019
Battery Recycling

There would appear to be a lot of work for many if not most Councils to do. Abysmal spread of drop off points and see why so few separate them from their waste. Need some outta the box thinking.