In a lithium-ion battery, the anode and cathode hold the lithium ions. An electrolyte carries the lithium ions from one area to the other through the part called the separator. The movement between the anode and cathode creates the electrical charge at the positive and negative parts of the battery.
As an electric current is used by a device, the anode releases lithium ions to the cathode as needed. When the battery is charging, the path reverses from the cathode to the anode. Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable, which makes them essential components in many of today’s electronic devices. When the battery no longer holds a charge, it’s time to dispose of them. You can’t just throw them away. They must be recycled properly.
How do you recycle lithium-ion batteries? To better understand how to recycle these batteries, you need to look at the device itself. Here are 10 devices that contain lithium-ion batteries and the best way to recycle them.
#1 – Bluetooth Headsets and Headphones
Many brands of Bluetooth headsets and headphones use lithium-ion batteries. If you have a device that no longer works, you need to carefully decide what to do with them. They cannot be tossed out. Look to see if you have a local recycling facility that takes old electronics.
Consider purchasing from companies like Jlab. They offer a discount to consumers who return broken or end-of-life headsets and headphones to them when they buy a new device. They make sure your old headsets and headphones go to a recycling center.
#2 – Cell Phones
Look at your cell phone. Most people have one and use it daily, but after a year or two, the phone is old and becoming obsolete. When it’s time for an upgrade, some carriers allow you to trade in your cell phone for a newer model. That can make recycling the lithium-ion battery, metal, glass, and plastic easy to manage.
If that’s not an option, see if your local women’s shelter accepts donations of working older cell phones. Some do it as a way to provide women with an affordable cell phone they can use. Otherwise, check your local recycling facility to see if there is a drop-off box.
#3 – Computer Peripherals
Sometimes, your computer mouse takes alkaline batteries. A growing number have USB ports that allow you to charge an internal lithium-ion battery as needed. Logitech, Microsoft, and Surface are just a few of the companies that sell rechargeable mice.
Logitech prides itself on using recycled plastic and metals in many of its computer peripherals. You can visit their website to find local businesses and facilities that accept lithium-ion batteries. If there is an Amazon location in your area, the company partners with ERI and has Secure Electronics Recycling Bins in several cities. Drop off your small electronics in those secure bins and know that your item will be recycled properly or entered into Amazon’s Second Chance refurbishing program if the item still has value.
#4 – Digital Cameras
A digital camera has a lithium-ion battery, glass lenses, metal, and plenty of plastic. All of that must be recycled responsibly. It’s not hard to do. Pop out any memory cards prior to sending them in for recycling and make sure you’ve downloaded any photos so that you don’t lose any valuable images.
The Amazon Second Chance program is also a good way to recycle your unneeded digital cameras. You can drop the cameras off at UPS to have them recycled responsibly. Amazon even pays for the shipping! If you don’t have a local UPS facility, use Recycle Nation’s recycling facility finder to locate your local recycling facility.
#5 – eReader
An eReader like a Barnes and Noble Nook or an Amazon Kindle contains vital information like your name, location, purchases, and books. When the unit is no longer functioning properly or you decide to upgrade, careful recycling is important. First, the lithium-ion battery is a concern. Second, you also have glass, metal, and plastic computer components that can pollute soil and groundwater if it’s not disposed of properly.
Start with the manufacturer. Amazon Kindle has a program where they’ll accept a trade-in on your old Kindle. That makes it easy to recycle. If that’s not an option, reach out to your local recycling facility.
#6 – Game Controllers
Whether you own a Playstation, Xbox, or Nintendo or use a game controller on your gaming PC, most controllers use lithium-ion batteries or alkaline batteries. If the controller is rechargeable, you have a lithium-ion battery to dispose of properly. When the controller stops working, you can’t just throw it in the trash.
Recycle your game controllers as you would any small electronic item. Start with your local recycling facility. If that’s not an option, consider purchasing your new controller through GameStop. GameStop accepts trade-ins that the company then repairs for resale or recycles properly.
#7 – Laptops
The lithium-ion batteries in today’s laptops are just one of the reasons you need to recycle your laptop. The computer components contain heavy metals like lead and mercury. Plus, you have plenty of plastic and some glass. Laptops can be easier to recycle than you might think as most manufacturers have recycling programs in place.
Dell and HP both offer drop-off locations across the U.S. Your local Staples store may offer in-store recycling or seasonal recycling events. Best Buy is another store that offers in-store recycling. You can find a full list of computer recycling programs at the EPA.
#8 – Smartwatch
In 2019, it’s estimated that more than 20 million smartwatches were sold in the U.S. When your smartwatch stops working or no longer holds a charge, you need to recycle it responsibly. Smartwatches have glass, plastic, and small computer pieces that contain plenty of metal. That’s in addition to the lithium-ion battery and leather, metal, or silicone strap.
When you shop for a new smartwatch, look for manufacturers who accept trade-ins. That keeps you from having to find a way to recycle your watch. If you’re not buying a new one, consider Target’s Trade-In Program. Find your smartwatch in the store’s list, find out what it’s worth, ship it to the company with the prepaid shipping label, and get a Target gift card to use on a future purchase.
#9 – Smoke/Fire/Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Sometimes, your smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide detectors are 10-year detectors that have a lithium battery that is meant to last the entire decade without battery changes. At that point, you remove the entire unit and replace it with a new one.
Smoke detectors may use ionization alarms or photoelectric alarms. Photoelectric alarms are better at catching smoky fires by using light within a chamber to identify smoke. Ionization alarms use radioactive materials to create ions that help identify smoke. Heat detectors use electro-pneumatic or thermocouple technology to detect sudden changes in room temperature.
Depending on your smoke detector/fire alarm, the manufacturer may take it back. First Alert takes back their ionization detectors free of charge as long as you don’t return more than four to them. Kidde recommends bringing them to your local recycling facility.
#10 – Tablets
Tablets like the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab also contain a lithium-ion battery. At the end of their lives, these tablets need to be disposed of properly. In addition to the battery, these tablets contain metals, glass, and plastic components that can also be recycled.
To recycle a tablet, reach out to your local recycling facility. Most states have drop-off centers. Be careful, however, as private data like your bank information or SSN remains in the hard drive even if you do a factory restore. You want to make sure your tablet ends up in the hands of a facility that holds eStewards and R2 certifications. This way, you’re assured your data is destroyed before it’s sent to shredders for recycling or to be refurbished.
If you can’t get the manufacturer to take your item back and you don’t have a local recycling facility, what do you do? ERI has a much easier way to recycle all 10 of these rechargeable electronics. Contact ERI and ask about our secure recycling boxes. You can box up your electronics in the prepaid box, ship them to ERI for processing, and keep all lithium-ion batteries from going into a landfill.