If you’re a vehicle owner who knows the dangers associated with lead-based car batteries, you’ve probably asked the question, “How are car batteries recycled?” Recycling these batteries is essential. The average lead-acid car battery contains as much as 20 pounds of lead. If not properly disposed of, this metal can cause toxicity that can be harmful to both humans and the environment.
Below, we’ll take a look at what happens to car batteries during the recycling process.
Battery Recycling: Step by Step
- Battery drop-off. The recycling process starts with battery drop-off. You’ll need to take the car battery to a recycling facility, or you can drop it off at an auto parts store.
- Battery breakdown. Upon arrival at the recycling plant, the battery will be broken down. A machine called a hammer mill is used to break the car battery into small pieces. During this process, the battery’s sulfuric acid is collected and held separately from the broken battery chunks.
- Separation of remaining battery materials. A car battery is primarily composed of lead and plastic, and the next step is designed to separate these materials. The broken battery pieces are placed in a vat that’s filled with liquid. Due to its weight, the lead will fall to the bottom of the vat. The plastic will float at the top, where it can be easily removed. You may be wondering why the battery’s plastic and lead are separated. This is done so that each material can undergo a separate recycling process.
- Plastic recycling. The process of recycling the battery’s plastic components begins with having these parts washed and dried. After this is done, the plastic pieces are melted down until they’re almost completely liquefied. At this point, the molten plastic is usually run through an extruder to create tiny plastic pellets. These pellets are used to create cases for new car batteries.
- Lead recycling. The lead taken from a car battery is placed in a smelting furnace. The furnace is used to melt the lead, and the liquefied material is poured into ingot molds. The impurities found in the lead will float to the top after a few minutes, and this allows them to be easily removed. After the impurities have been removed, the ingots are allowed to cool down and harden. At this point, the hardened ingots are taken from the molds. Then they’re sent to battery manufacturers so they can be melted once again and used to make new batteries.
- Sulfuric acid treatment. Sulfuric acid is also known as battery acid. It’s corrosive enough to burn the skin and the eyes, and it can be poisonous if swallowed. In some cases, the battery’s sulfuric acid is neutralized using a compound that’s similar to baking soda. This neutralization turns the acid into water that is then cleaned, treated and tested at a wastewater management facility. In other cases, the sulfuric acid is converted into sodium sulfate, a white powder used to make glass, textiles and laundry detergent.
So, how are car batteries recycled? The process starts with battery drop-off, and it ends with each battery material undergoing treatment that allows it to be safely reused. This process helps keep our environment free of the toxic lead found in car batteries. It also ensures that the battery’s materials can be used to create new products.
Check out all the electrical system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to recycle your car’s battery, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Canva.
I'm a writer and editor who's a regular contributor with the New York Daily News and Carfax, and my content has appeared in over 20 publications. I've written content that covers industries such as automotive, medical, insurance, healthcare, real estate, plumbing, pest control, dental and hospitality.