Batteries are an essential part of our life today. Most people have different kinds of battery cells lying about their drawers or cupboards. They are so common that often, they are even overlooked and treated invisible. The history of batteries dates back to the 1800s. Obviously, during that period, less sophisticated versions were created. But as time went on, these technologies were refined and made available for the common man.
Today, you can find batteries in different forms, shapes, and sizes. There are other chemicals present in the battery that creates electricity. Batteries, which we brush off so easily, are responsible for running almost every electronic gadget we use. Because let us be real, without our portable electronic devices, we feel lost and useless.
One of the most commonly used chemistry for a battery is the Lead-Acid battery. They were one of the first invented batteries. Their basic manufacturing principle is still used today in the modern world. Initially, batteries were considered safe for the environment. As a matter of fact, each battery has minimal amounts of lead and other chemicals in them.
This means that their impact on the environment as a single entity is negligible. Considering this fact, you must be confused as to why the concept of recycling batteries is becoming so prevalent in today’s world. The purpose of this article is to explore why and how we should recycle batteries to save the environment.
But before we dive into the details, let us explore a little about batteries and their functions.
What is a Battery?
A battery is a device that contains chemical energy and eventually changes it into electricity.
There are many different kinds of batteries available in the market. Each battery product varies based on the chemicals used inside the battery and how they react. Electroplates may also vary, changing the composition of a battery.
What are Batteries Composed of?
Let us admit it right here and right now that we have all been intrigued as a child to know about a battery’s components. And even though we were all taught in school about its composition, we have long forgotten its details (except those who are engineering or battery-related departments). Anyways, to make you understand or revise the components of a battery, here are the details:
Batteries are made up of 3 different components:
This is the negatively charged piece of the battery. It releases electrons into the mixture. The purpose of these electrons is to oxidize the chemical while an electrochemical reaction takes place. In most scenarios, it is made of Graphite or Copper. It is responsible for the reduction of the other metal.
This part accepts all the electrons provided by the anode or, in other words, reduced during the chemical reaction. The electrons come from the external circuit. Manganese, Cobalt, and Nickel are common metals used to create cathode bars in a battery.
Electrolytes are aqueous solutions of salts, acids, and alkalis. This solution cannot have electrical conductivity. Also, the metallic bars used in the battery must not have any reactivity with the electrolyte. In some batteries, water also works as an electrolyte. In newer cells, solid electrolytes are used as well. Some of the more common electrolytes include Lead Acid, Nickel-Cadmium, Lithium-ion, and many more.
Working of Batteries
There are chemical reactions happening inside the battery, which results in the production of electrons. These excited electrons flow into other devices and eventually provide them the energy to execute their functions.
*This is a straightforward and layman explanation of how most batteries work.
Some batteries are disposable, but others can be charged again. Rechargeable batteries have taken over the world in the last few decades, and today most electronic devices run on them. Standard batteries are Nickel-Cadmium batteries.
Problems with Batteries
Batteries seem harmless. But contrary to popular belief, their components pose a threat to the environment, mainly when disposed of carelessly. Different countries around the world have banned batteries that are made from Nickel or Cadmium. With the increase in batteries-oriented cars worldwide, batteries’ number increases explosively, especially the Lithium-ion-based batteries.
It is vital to remember that Lithium-ion present in batteries is easily recyclable. Despite this fact being commonly known worldwide, a minimal number of batteries are sent for recycling. Instead, they are thrown away in different landfills. This occupies a lot of space on our Earth and creates negative impacts on the environment.
With more awareness, the process of recycling batteries is becoming more common. It is estimated that around 50% of the lead supply used to make lead-based batteries comes from a recycled lead from old and unusable batteries.
*Keep it in your mind that hundreds of different types of batteries are available; they are composed of other materials. The materials used in each of these batteries are not necessarily recyclable.
Even though most mobile devices have recyclable batteries, they are still not recycled as much as they should. As per Battery University, only 20% to 40% of such batteries are recycled annually. This number can be vamped up to large figures if appropriately considered.
Benefits of Recycling Batteries
Time and time again, the benefits of recycling batteries have been highlighted by scientists and environmentalists. Here is a quick overview of their services:
1. Reusable materials
There are so many materials inside a battery that can be used again if they are recycled. There are so many metals that have an exhausting method of mining, refining, and processing. All of this can be avoided if they are extracted from the batteries during the recycling process. This way, the cost to produce the batteries reduces drastically as well.
In short, by recycling and reusing materials inside batteries, you can reduce their mining and extraction process, thus reducing pollution and depletion of rare metals.
2. Keep the Humans Safe
This should be the number one reason batteries are recycled. Batteries are harmful to human beings around them. They are composed of toxic chemicals that can react with different things in the environment. Some batteries end up exploding and catching fire which can cause severe burns and injuries to people around them. Some lithium batteries are more likely to explode than others. You Devastating impacts can be created by batteries when they are not disposed of properly.
3. Keep the Environment Safe
Many of the metals and liquids present in the batteries are harmful to the environment. Once the batteries are thrown in landfills, they slowly start to decompose. There are different toxic materials present in the batteries. Toxic materials, especially mercury, seep into the soil and eventually fall into the nearby water sources. These water sources can be the drinking point for many animals and humans. Imagine all the toxic water that your body will consume.
Moreover, other metals harm the landfill areas by leaving them infertile. Insects, plants, and animals that live in the region all die. They lose their habitat and current ecosystem. In extreme cases, species can go extinct, creating an imbalance in the world.
Steps to Recycle Batteries
Recycling batteries is not an easy task. This is why there are many experts present in the recycling industry who are devoted to recycling batteries. Here are a few basics that are generally followed by the recycling industry.
There are many different outlets where batteries are collected. All over the States, there are disposal points where the batteries come from all around the region.
In this step, each battery is crushed and taken apart. Some specific machines do this task. The most commonly used device is a hammer mill. Once the battery is put inside the machine, it is torn into tiny pieces.
Once the battery is decomposed into different pieces, experts separate things from one another. For example, all the plastic and metal content present in the battery is set in an extra pile. If any solution is extracted, it is sorted out through a separate process.
Filtering further helps in separating dry materials from liquid ones. Metals are cleaned, and the lead is sieved from the remaining pile. All the plastic material taken out from the battery is thoroughly washed and cleaned.
Through different chemicals and temperatures, various metals are extracted from the pile after the filtration process. If there is lead present in the battery, a particular procedure is applied to make it reusable.
Most recycling organizations send the decomposed components to different places. For example, all the plastic content is sent out to the organizations that handle and create plastic products. Companies that manufacture batteries are sent the heavy metals and lead components.
In most cases, recycling organizations provide certificates to those who recycle their batteries to acknowledge their efforts.
*The process for recycling batteries may differ for different kinds of batteries. There is no one solution for the recycling process that fits all batteries. The method mentioned above is generalized.
Batteries are a wonder of science. They make life very easy and full of unique electronic gadgets. But they can cause a lot of harm to the environment if they are not recycled properly. If you have any batteries lying around the home that are not used and do not work, do your part. Be a responsible citizen of Earth and send it to an organization for recycling. Your job is relatively easy because outlets accepting batteries for recycling are available in every state.