Automotive (lead-acid) batteries boast the highest recycling rate in North America at 96%. The typical new lead-acid battery contains 60-80% recycled lead and plastic.
Battery Council International outlines the process involved in recycling automotive batteries:
Once the batteries are broken up, each component of the battery is treated separately. The polypropylene (plastic) pieces are sent to a plastic recycler, where they are made into pellets which are sold to the manufacturer of battery cases, and the process begins again. The lead is melted, cleaned and poured into ingots. The ingots are sent to battery manufacturers, where they are re-melted and used in the production of new lead plates and other parts for new batteries.
Old battery acid (sulfuric acid) can be handled in two ways:
- The acid is neutralized with an industrial compound similar to household baking soda. This turns the acid into water. The water is treated, cleaned and tested to be sure it meets clean water standards. Then it is released into the public sewer system.
- Another way to treat acid is to process it and convert it to sodium sulfate, an odorless white powder that's used in laundry detergent, glass and textile manufacturing. This takes a material that would be discarded and turns it into a useful product.
Many scrap metal dealers collect old car batteries. See our recycling database for battery collectors in your community.
The recycling cycle goes on indefinitely. That means the lead and plastic in the lead-acid battery in your car, truck, boat or motorcycle have been — and will continue to be — recycled many, many times.