How is California Doing with Recycling Rechargeable Batteries?

Many, if not most, portable electronic devices use rechargeable batteries and millions of rechargeable batteries are sold in California each year. California no longer allows batteries to be disposed of in the trash because they contain toxic metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel. If released, these metals may be harmful to humans and the environment.

In 2005, to help promote proper disposal of rechargeable batteries by the public, the Governor signed the California Rechargeable Battery Recycling Act, which requires retailers to have a mechanism to accept all rechargeable batteries from consumers for recycling. To track how effective this program is, the law requires DTSC to survey battery handling and/or recycling facilities and post on its Web site, by July 1 of each year, the estimated amount, by weight, of each type of rechargeable batteries returned for recycling in California during the previous calendar year.

DTSC worked with California battery recyclers to estimate how many rechargeable batteries, by type (e.g., nickel-cadmium, nickel metal hydride, etc.), were handled in 2012. The data from 2012 indicates that, nearly 22.2 million pounds of rechargeable batteries were collected from consumers for recycling, more than double the amount collected in the previous year. This is due mainly to the almost 3 fold increase in small sealed lead acid batteries collected in 2012. Please see the separate chart for small sealed lead acid batteries.

Quantities of Rechargeable Batteries Collected for Recycling in California for the year 2012:

  • Approximately 900,000 pounds of nickel cadmium batteries (NiCd)
  • Approximately 700,000 pounds of lithium ion batteries (Li-ion)
  • Approximately 1,700,000 pounds of nickel metal hydride batteries (Ni-MH)
  • Approximately 18.900,000 pounds of small lead acid batteries (SS Lead Acid)

DTSC arrived at these estimates from data collected in the state of California and voluntarily submitted to DTSC by the major battery recyclers.

Small Sealed Lead Acid BatteriesOther Rechargeable Batteries Recycled

Data Limitations

It is difficult to give accurate estimates of the amount of rechargeable batteries collected for recycling in California due to the following reasons:

  • Some battery handlers and recyclers do not track the state from which batteries are collected;

  • Batteries contained within electronic devices that are recycled (e.g., cell phones and laptop computers) are not counted separately but may represent a significant portion of the total quantity;

  • There may be duplicate data as some battery handlers collect batteries from other collection points (we have attempted to mitigate this problem by gathering our data from major battery handlers who often collect batteries from smaller collection centers);
  • California law does not require battery handlers or recyclers to report the number or weight of batteries collected for recycling.