All batteries are not created equally from an environmental point of view. Alkaline batteries are benign enough that many recycling organizations tell people to put them in the trash. Lead acid batteries, on the other hand, are so toxic they are banned from landfills in all 50 states.
NiMH batteries, also known as Ni-MH or nickel-metal-hydride batteries, fall somewhere in the middle. They contain metals that can be damaging to people and the environment. However, in the majority of states, you can place them in your trash – just as you would an alkaline battery.
If you are looking for a place to recycle NiMH batteries, you have many options. The number of collection sites is growing, and nearly everyone who takes them will not charge you for them. We have several suggestions for finding places to drop off your unwanted NiMH batteries.
What are NiMH batteries?
As the name implies, NiMH, or nickel-metal-hydride, batteries are made with a combination of nickel and hydrogen, two naturally occurring elements. They were invented by American scientist Stanford Ovshinsky and first patented in 1986. Some NiMH batteries look like the alkaline batteries you can buy at the grocery store. Others come as battery packs that are custom-made for their corresponding electronic device.
NiMH batteries are great for products that are used frequently and consume a lot of energy. Digital cameras, handheld video games, toys and MP3 players all use NiMH batteries. The charge in these batteries will not last longer than 30 days, so they do not work well in devices like smoke or carbon monoxide detectors and emergency flashlights.
There are some real advantages to using NiMH batteries. Since they are so powerful you do not have to buy – or throw away – as many of them. The fact that some NiMH batteries are rechargeable also means you will not need to consume as many new batteries. A rechargeable battery can often be used hundreds of times if the charging is done correctly, which means a lot of batteries diverted from local landfills. Given that Americans buy three billion batteries every year (which translates to eight batteries per person), anything that reduces that number is great.
Why is it important to recycle NiMH batteries?
There are also some disadvantages to NiMH batteries. In large quantities nickel can be dangerous to human and animal health. It is a known carcinogen, can cause cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, and can also damage the liver and kidneys. Generally, NiMH batteries are considered better for the environment than a similar rechargeable product called NiCd batteries, which contain a toxic heavy metal called cadmium. However, they can still pollute waterways and the air.
Because of this, many states have banned NiMH batteries from landfills, include Minnesota, New York, New Hampshire and Florida. To see if your state is on the list, visit the Call2Recycle website
. But even if your state does not require NiMH battery recycling, it is a good idea to keep them out of the waste stream.
Where & how to recycle NiMH batteries
Luckily, there are many resources for recycling NiMH batteries. Best Buy stores around the country take rechargeable batteries including NiMH batteries. Recycling policies differ from state to state, so check your state’s website
to make sure your local store can really take them.
Your county solid waste management department may be able to take your NiMH batteries. In Fairfax County, Virginia, the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has set up collection centers for rechargeable batteries and cell phones at several county buildings. Check its website
for a list of locations. The City of St. Louis’ Refuse Division also accepts NiMH and other rechargeable batteries. Call2Recycle
, an industry organization set up to receive and recycle rechargeable batteries, accepts batteries from individuals and businesses. Visit its website to find a collection location near you. Drop-offs are often co-located with cell phone stores, tool stores and big box retailers.
Call2Recycle can also take other types of rechargeable batteries, such as those that come with power tools and laptops. When you go to drop off your NiMH batteries, see if you have any other batteries you can leave at the same time.
When transporting all those batteries, it is worth taking some precautions. If enough batteries come into contact with each other they can cause a fire – even if you think they do not have any charge remaining in them. To prevent problems, put some tape over the positive end to keep the metal parts from coming into contact with each other. On a normal battery, this is the end with the small bump. For battery packs, take a look at the device to determine where the positive side is. This quick and easy step will significantly lower your risk when driving to the recycling location nearest you.