Recycling: What happens to my used car battery when it's replaced?
Updated 7 May 2021
A car battery will usually die at the most inconvenient time. Early morning, in winter, and when you’re heading to work sounds about right.
When it does die, there’s a mad dash to get a new battery installed and then off you go, probably giving no thought to what happens with the old battery. Out of sight, out of mind.
What happens to that old battery is something we previously might not have considered, but since we’re becoming ever more conscious of the environment and collectively making “changes”, we are beginning to question what happens to the material items we no longer use.
This includes car parts and accessories and batteries in particular, which are becoming a hot topic thanks to increasing interest in electric vehicles.
Power is required to start a car and to ensure accessories are ready for action when you demand it.
As you drive, the battery is constantly being charged but it won’t live forever, no matter how many times you defibrillate it.
So what are the types of batteries typically seen in a passenger car?
Starting, Lighting and Ignition (SLI) - a 12-volt lead-acid battery usually consisting of six cells. Used in a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE)
AGM battery - Absorbed glass mat. A lead-acid battery that is a sealed maintenance-free unit. Optimal for modern vehicles with new technology and accessories with high energy demands
EFB Battery - Enhanced flooded battery that supports stop/start technology. It is a wet-cell battery with advanced cycling capabilities to handle the constant start/stop operation
Calcium battery - a lead-acid battery that uses calcium in the internal battery plates
Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries - found in hybrid and electric vehicles. Li-ion batteries are lighter, last longer, and offer improved performance over lead-acid batteries
Batteries are hazardous waste and should never be disposed of with general waste. Recycling centres, workshops and scrap metal dealers will take batteries off your hands and dispose of appropriately. Recyclers will separate and sell the materials recovered.
Lead-acid batteries - can contain lead, polypropylene and sulphuric acid. The battery is ground down, the acid neutralized, and polymers are separated from the lead. Materials recovered can be used to make new batteries.
Li-ion batteries - can contain copper, aluminium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, manganese and, of course, lithium. The recycling process includes discharging, disassembly, crushing, sorting and sifting. Electrolytes are recovered and chemical processes are used to extract individual materials.
Unfortunately, the current cost of newly mined lithium is cheaper than recycled lithium, but progress is underway to make the recycling process less expensive.
It’s good to know that battery recycling is underway, and considering that we discard 70,000 tons of lead-acid batteries each year, it’s encouraging to know that as much as 98% of the materials contained in its construction can be recycled and used in the creation of a whole range of other items.
In fact, next time you purchase laundry detergent, or plant pots, or new batteries, stop to consider that these items might have been made from the materials salvaged from your old car battery.
Is your battery losing its charge? Here’s an article on symptoms of battery failure and how to replace a battery.
The easy way is to get an AutoGuru expert mechanic to test and replace your battery, without the hassle.
Rachel spent her early adult life around cars, motorsport and hands-on with her own cars. This interest moved into various careers within the Automotive industry. Joined with her passion for writing, Rachel loves putting the two together to share her experience, so we can all become AutoGuru’s.