Batteries are one of those items that we are so used to seeing in our home life, that we sometimes forget that these can be generated as a waste at our place of work. In the course of a day you may unknowingly come into contact with many different types of batteries in a variety of applications:
- Rechargeable lithium batteries in your laptop or cellphone.
- Dry cell lead acid batteries as back-up electricity sources for emergency signs and lighting.
- Liquid-filled lead acid batteries in your car or your company’s fork-truck.
- Disposable dry-cell alkaline batteries in your flashlight.
My goal for this article is to provide guidance on the US EPA and US DOT requirements for dry-cell alkaline batteries, but I will briefly address the regulatory requirements for other batteries as well.
When spent, you’re responsible to determine if your batteries are a hazardous or non-hazardous waste. In other words: make a hazardous waste determination for your batteries per the US EPA hazardous waste regulations of40 CFR 262.11. This is something you must do on a case-by-case basis, but you can presume the following:
- Lead acid (liquid or dry) – D008 for lead.
- Nickel/cadmium (or NiCad) – D006 for cadmium.
- Lithium – D003 for reactivity.
- Silver ion – D011 for silver.
- Dry cell alkaline batteries (D, C, AA, AAA, 6 volt, & 9 volt).
If your spent batteries are a hazardous waste you have three options for on-site handling and off-site disposal:
But I said this article would be about dry-cell alkaline batteries so let’s get back to them. Your options for disposal of these batteries as a non-hazardous, solid waste are:
Throw in trash: if non-hazardous and not generated as a by-product of an industrial process, you may be able to dispose of alkaline batteries in the trash the same as you do the trash from your front office, break rooms and other non-production areas. I don’t recommend this, and your state, municipality or county, and the landfill operator may not like it either. I suggest you speak with all of them before you choose this option.
Handle as universal waste: this is OK, but technically incorrect since the regulations at 40 CFR 273.2(b)(3) limits the universal waste option only to batteries that are a hazardous waste. Alkaline batteries do not meet the US EPA definition of a D002 corrosive waste since they are solid. Your state may differ from the US EPA in the definition of a corrosive hazardous waste and in that case, an alkaline battery might be a hazardous waste and therefore eligible for handling as a universal waste. I have not heard of the US EPA or any authorized state environmental agency complaining if alkaline batteries are disposed of as universal waste.
Other off-site recycling: if the universal waste option does not work, then I suggest you find a company able to recycle your batteries. There are many companies out there and they provide accumulation containers and shipping instructions as well.
This brings us to the final hurdle and that is the US DOT requirements for off-site shipments of alkaline batteries. As recently as 2008 the PHMSA within the US DOT indicated that alkaline batteries (AA, D, and C cell) though not subject to the Hazardous Materials Regulations for transportation were required to be, “securely packaged and offered for transportation in a manner that prevents the dangerous evolution of heat (for example, by effective insulation of exposed terminals)” (49 CFR 172.102, special provision 130). This meant (note past tense) that the terminals of alkaline batteries had to be covered with non-conductive tape or each battery individually bagged.
But hold on, in separate tests in the summer of 2009 petitioners to the US DOT proved that even in the most extreme circumstances, the batteries in question could not generate enough heat to be a hazard in transportation. US DOT agreed and indicated that no alkaline batteries of 9 volt or lower – which includes (AA, AAA, C, D, 6-volt, & 9-volt) arenot subject to the hazardous material regulations. I could not find the petitions and DOT response on-line, but these two agency interpretations refer to the original documents and confirm the US DOT’s position (09-0150R &09-0090R).
The hazardous batteries are, of course, subject to the HMR and some such as lithium batteries have very restrictive regulations for transportation. You will have to research this further or wait for me to write an article on them too.
Alkaline batteries are not a hazardous waste per the regulations of the US EPA and they’re not a hazardous material (HazMat) per the regulations of the US DOT. You could throw them in the trash if you want and no one could stop you, but I strongly suggest you don’t. Find a reputable recycler, arrange for on-site collection of your batteries, and educate your employees to ensure their proper accumulation, transportation, and disposal.
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