Battery takeback – why

To be able to discuss proper disposal and recycling options, it is important to know what batteries we are actually talking about. Basically, batteries are divided into non-rechargeable and rechargeable.

The battery takeback described here is concerned with the disposal of portable batteries. This term covers encapsulated batteries that can be easily carried in the hand. The best known are monocell batteries (e.g. type AA and AAA), as used in remote controls, toys, all kinds of electrical appliances and cameras. Button cell batteries (small round batteries where the diameter is larger than the height) and lithium batteries (used in laptops and mobile phones, cordless screwdrivers and electric toothbrushes) also belong in the “portable batteries” category.

However, our schemes are not designed for small industrial batteries e.g. for e-vehicles, e-bikes and for the storage of renewable energies, or for conventional car batteries. These are collected and recycled in a different way.

Hazard potential of batteries and rechargeable batteries

Since batteries and rechargeable batteries contain toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and lead, it is important to separate them from household waste. At the same time, they contain valuable materials that can be recycled. These include steel, zinc, aluminium and silver. And just recently, lithium has also been added to the materials that can be recovered.

Proper disposal therefore prevents toxic heavy metals from entering our environment and then resurfacing in the air or groundwater, for example. After all, if these substances enter the human body via the food chain, they can have serious consequences for our health. But recycling reduces the consumption of required materials. Fewer of these raw materials then need to be mined, because most of the recovered materials flow directly back into battery and rechargeable battery production. In the end, this step also pays off for us and our environment.

Disposing of batteries and rechargeable batteries correctly helps to protect the climate and conserve resources. In addition to empty batteries, other types of waste should also be separated. This is the only way that valuable raw materials from packaging can be fed back into the cycle.

There are many things that can be recycled to avoid becoming waste – you can find out here how to dispose of them properly and what belongs in which bin.

Consumption of batteries and rechargeable batteries increases Unfortunately, takeback rates are not

The number of batteries we use has increased sharply over the last few years. Not surprisingly when we look around at all the places where battery and rechargeable battery devices are used in our everyday lives. So far, however, far too few of the portable energy storage units have been returned. In 2020, the figure was not even 50 per cent.

This is one of the reasons why the German Battery Act was revised, in order to make us consumers more aware of the added value of recycling and to make disposal even easier. You can hand in old batteries and rechargeable batteries almost anywhere locally – at the supermarket or petrol station, at the electronics store and also at the municipal recycling centre.

Special case lithium batteries: Fire hazard

Lithium batteries can be found in almost all mobile telecommunication devices, and e-mobility equipment, but also in almost all building and gardening tools. The benefit for you is that they last longer and can store more energy. This gives us longer periods of use. However, lithium is also a highly combustible and very reactive metal. A lithium battery may self-ignite under certain circumstances. Therefore, proper disposal is especially important at the end of its service life. If batteries containing lithium (or lithium-ion batteries) end up in household waste, this can lead to short circuits and even fires. Substances that are hazardous to the environment and health are released in the process. Almost every week in Germany, short circuits and fires occur in disposal vehicles, waste bins or sorting plants because of batteries that have not been disposed of properly. And the trend is rising.

The Federal Association of German Waste Management, Water and Recycling Management (“Bundesverband der deutschen Entsorgungs-, Wasser- und Kreislaufwirtschaft e.V.”) informs about the dangers of incorrect disposal of batteries and rechargeable batteries with its campaign “Brennpunkt: Battery” (“Focus on Batteries”). Have you noticed the red and yellow stickers on your waste bin?

You can find out more about proper collection and disposal of lithium-ion batteries and rechargeable batteries here.

Batteries and rechargeable batteries in electrical appliances

Before disposing of old electrical appliances, always check to see if they still contain batteries or rechargeable batteries. You can usually remove household batteries from old appliances yourself. But what do electric toothbrushes, hoverboards and cordless screwdrivers have in common? They all contain built-in batteries that cannot be removed easily. In such cases, staff at the municipal collection points can be approached before putting the appliances in the container. Only electrical appliances that no longer contain batteries or rechargeable batteries may be placed in the containers themselves. 

Like batteries and rechargeable batteries, electrical appliances also contain valuable raw materials that can be recycled. Moreover, electrical appliances may also contain hazardous substances which can harm our health and the environment if they leak.

Incidentally, the same obligation applies to electrical appliances as to batteries: anyone that sells them must also take back old devices. Online retailers must also be able to name return options nearby. The EAR Foundation’s takeback finder shows where old electrical appliances can be returned free of charge.