How to Recycle Your Old Laptop Batteries

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How to Recycle Your Old Laptop Batteries

As the components and materials of the laptop computer have become more advanced, the laptop's efficiency and functionality have improved. Early laptop batteries could not hold a charge for very long and did not have a very long lifespan. The composition of the rechargeable laptop battery has changed so significantly that not only is it able to power a laptop for a longer period of time, but it lasts longer than a few months (depending on the type).

However, as users upgrade to faster and more efficient models, or replace batteries in an older model, the need arises to dispose of the old laptop batteries. Fortunately, every part of a laptop computer is recyclable, including the power source.


Why Recycle Laptop Batteries?

As consumers continue to regularly purchase the latest and greatest electronics, there are mounting numbers of old electronics that join the circulation of e-waste. When these components are simply thrown in with household waste, they can cause environmental damage. The older the laptop battery, the more toxic the contents, and the higher the contamination levels. Recycling rechargeable laptop batteries not only reduces the amount of dangerous contaminants entering into the soil and water streams, but reuses every part of the battery for a variety of products.

Laptop Batteries: Past, Present, and Future

The following table details the types of materials from which laptop batteries are composed, and the timeframe during which these batteries were most prevalent.
 

Dates of Use

Type of Material

Details

Early 1980s

Alkaline

A series of the common AA batteries powered a laptop. The batteries did not have a long life, had to be changed frequently. Constant replacement was expensive and the multiple batteries made the laptop very heavy..

Late 1980s

Lead-Acid

The first rechargeable battery. Very heavy. Consisted of a lead cathode and a lead dioxide cathode both immersed in sulphuric acid. Did not hold a charge for a significant amount of time.

1990s

Nickel Cadmium

Lower cost. Suffered from memory effect; had to be drained before recharging and efficiency decreased if batteries were not recharged completely.

Late 1990s

Nickel Metal Hydride

Better capacity, but also suffered from memory effect.

Mid 2000s to Present

Lithium Ion

Lighter and slimmer. Extensive battery life and operating time. Slowest loss of charge when not in use. Lost efficiency when exposed to high temperatures.

Present

Lithium Polymer

Found predominantly in Macbooks and MP3 players. Light in weight and easy to manufacture in different shapes.

Future

Silver-Zinc

Add more battery life. Components can be easily recycled. Silver has a very high cost.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed batteries of all chemistries as household hazardous waste. This means that they need to be disposed of in a manner separate from your other household waste, which is biodegradable. Millions of batteries are not recycled because people are unaware of where to take the products to be recycled, or even that they can be recycled and reused for other products.

Batteries that are not taken to an authorized rechargeable battery recycling collection are transported to landfills and incinerators in the same way as household waste. Should a rechargeable laptop battery end up in a landfill, the metal content (some of which is highly toxic from older batteries) contaminates soil and groundwater. Rechargeable batteries that are incinerated also release metal contaminants in the ash from smokestacks.

It's the Law

California is currently the only state that requires batteries of all chemistries to be recycled. Minnesota, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Puerto Rico, and Florida have rechargeable battery recycling laws for batteries of multiple chemistries, such as nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, or lithium ion. The remaining states either have no laws or a law for just single-chemistry batteries, such as small, sealed lead-acid batteries.


Where and How to Recycle Laptop Batteries

Call2Recyle is an organization that is devoted to the recycling of rechargeable batteries, and is operated by the non-profit organization RBRC. By visiting the Call2Recycle website, you can find the nearest of 30,000 locations where you can take your electronics to be recycled. Call2Recyle is funded by product manufacturers worldwide that have committed to reducing the amount of e-waste by recycling rechargeable batteries and cell phones.

The following manufacturers have their own recycling and reuse programs: Apple, Dell, HP, Acer, Toshiba, Gateway, Lenovo, Sony, Panasonic, and IBM. You can ship your laptop batteries (and even a laptop in its entirety) directly to these manufacturers for recycling. In some cases, the manufacturer will offer a credit for purchase of new products, should there still be a value attached to the equipment you are sending in.

There are also national retailers that accept laptop batteries for recycling. The EPA provides a list of manufacturers and retailers that accept electronics of all types for recycling.

Once you have found a recycling collector, be sure it is a recycler that is operating under the appropriate environmental controls. Any recycling center listed with the EPA or the Call2Recyle program is properly authorized to recycle e-waste in the most efficient and effective manner. If the location you have chosen is not recycler certified, be wary of dropping off your laptop or laptop battery. These locations may not properly dispose of laptop batteries, or may not recycle the batteries in the safest manner possible.


How to Maximize Laptop Battery Life

Maximizing the life of your laptop rechargeable battery will not only efficiently maintain your laptop for a longer period of time, but will prevent an overabundance of laptop batteries from entering the cycle of e-waste far too soon.

One thing to note is that while older batteries, such as those made from nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH), suffered from memory effect, meaning they lost battery storage capacity when not fully discharged before recharging, this is not an issue with the current lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries. For longtime laptop users, it may be difficult to change old habits, but for newer batteries, partial discharges and recharges do not affect the battery's overall life. In fact, complete discharges are typically not recommended.

The following tips will help prolong the life of your laptop battery:

Optimize Operating System

Inefficient operations can quickly drain battery power. To optimize your operating system, only run programs that are essential to your current tasks, or that are running in the background. Close all other programs. Empty the trash regularly, and delete unused programs and files. In addition, check for viruses or malware regularly, as these can bog down your operating system and eat battery life. Depending on the type of operating system your laptop uses, there may be other steps you can take, such as regularly defragmenting the system to ensure data is arranged more efficiently.

Follow Manufacturer Guidelines

Manufacturers provide guidelines for charging and recharging the batteries contained in your laptop. Batteries have charging times, particularly for the initial use, which should be followed for the best operation of the laptop. Following the guidelines help with attaining maximum battery capacity.

Unplug Devices

Devices connected to a laptop can quickly drain battery power. This includes USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. Should any of these devices not be necessary to your current operation, disconnect them.

Empty Drives

Remove any CDs or DVDs from drives. A drive that is continuously spinning without being used takes away from battery power.

Adjust Backlighting

Dim the lights of the screen. Brighter lights use more power. Try to set the brightness of your screen to the lowest setting as possible, but still manageable.

Minimize Multimedia Use

Any use of multimedia activity will drain battery power. This includes using sound and watching videos. Watching videos, either online or in the DVD drive, drastically drains battery power. If you're going to watch a long movie, it's best to plug the computer in if possible.

Close When Not in Use

Close your laptop if it is not being used. Battery power is conserved when the screen is not being lit and programs aren't running. Leaving your laptop open when not in use will quickly drain resources, as the laptop is not hibernating (there are still programs running) and a screen saver will appear, draining resources.

Add RAM

The more RAM a laptop has, the less of a load on the virtual memory and the hard drive. Even though RAM uses more power, it will increase power savings by speeding up access to the hard drive. Many times, you can add more RAM to your laptop to increase both speed and battery life.

Check for Updates

Make sure updates are consistently downloaded and maintained. Often, new drivers and software are designed to become increasingly efficient. In increasing efficiency, there is typically less of a drain on power resources.

Store Extra Batteries Safely

If you have purchased extra Li-ion batteries, charge them to at least 40 percent capacity, then store them in a cool, dry place. The battery will not lose its charge for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, this is not the case for older Ni-MH batteries, which drastically lose their charge, even when being stored.


Recycled Laptop Batteries on eBay

Recycling rechargeable batteries for resale is another method of reusing the vital laptop power source. As a way to reuse these parts, online marketplaces such as eBay sell refurbished laptop batteries. A general search on eBay for "laptop battery" lists all of the available laptop batteries. Consult your user manual to see what type of batter you need, or simply search by the brand and model of your laptop, such as "Dell Inspiron laptop battery." Search results categorize the battery's condition as new, manufacturer refurbished, seller refurbished, used, or not working.

A new battery is unused, unopened, undamaged and it its original packaging (if applicable). Manufacturer-refurbished laptop batteries are those that have been restored to working order by a manufacturer or a manufacturer-approved vendor. A seller-refurbished laptop battery has been restored to working order by the eBay seller or a third party not approved by the manufacturer. A used battery is one that has been previously used, has some wear and tear, but is still fully functional. Laptop batteries that are not working are sold for parts. These items are not fully operational or do not function as originally intended.


Conclusion

Being a responsible consumer entails knowing when and how to dispose of unused products before purchasing new ones. Because better and more efficient laptops are being developed at a rapid rate, your current laptop becomes outdated very quickly. Knowing how and where to dispose of laptop batteries (even the ancient ones) will keep the metal contained therein from contaminating the environment.

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