By complying with the Battery Act, health care organizations can avoid hefty fines by ensuring that batteries are properly recycled.

Every year batteries are being used in more applications in the hospital. Used batteries pose a threat to our environment and their disposal should be managed properly.

The Battery Act
To prevent the release of hazardous substances into the environment, the Battery Act (The Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act) was signed into law by President Clinton on May 13, 1996. The law serves two purposes: 1) to phase out the use of mercury in batteries and 2) to provide for the efficient and cost-effective collection and recycling or proper disposal of used nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries, used, small sealed lead acid (SSLA) batteries, and certain other regulated batteries.

Among other requirements, the Battery Act also establishes national, uniform labeling requirements for regulated batteries and for rechargeable consumer products that are manufactured domestically or imported and sold for use in the United States.

Almost 80% of municipal solid waste is either landfilled or incinerated. Neither of these methods are suited for the disposal of rechargeable batteries. In landfills, heavy metals from rechargeable batteries can leach slowly into the soil and ground and surface waters. Eventually they can make their way into the food chain and cause serious health consequences. When incinerated, the heavy metals can enter the air through smokestack emissions and can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion.

Recycling programs for Ni-Cd and SSLA rechargeable batteries can significantly reduce the dangers these batteries pose to human health and the environment by diverting them from landfills and incinerators. Once the rechargeable batteries arrive at the recycling facility, the heavy metals are recovered and the remainder of the product is recycled or discarded safely.

Certificate of Reclamation: Essential Proof
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can issue orders to violators of the Battery Act. The orders can assess a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 for each Battery Act violation. The agency can also impose a $10,000 penalty for failure to take timely corrective action required under an order. A certificate of reclamation should be available from a certified waste handler or recycler. This certificate is essential proof that fully documents the processing and handling of each battery shipment. Hospitals are urged have these certificates of reclamation on file, in the event that the EPA reviews the hospital’s site and program.

There are many benefits for a hospital once it starts or improves its current battery recycling program. Some of these include:

    •    compliance with current local, state, and federal (EPA) regulations;
    •    reduced costs, labor, and paperwork through a formal program;
    •    limited or reduced exposure to potential liabilities; and
    •    the opportunity to set a positive example in the community for promoting a safe and healthful environment.

Benefits of a Battery Recycling Program
•    Keeps all the hazardous metals in one place.
•    The reclaimed metals are reused and put back into the manufacturing process to build more batteries.
•    The plastic is recycled to be used again.
•    The cost of landfilling the batteries is saved.
•    It’s good environmental policy.
•    Conserves natural resources for future generations.
•    Countries have gone environmentally bankrupt by not managing their waste products. Recycling helps prevent this from ever happening.


Primary Recycling Process For Five Battery Chemistries
f05a.jpg (17445 bytes)1) Nickel Cadmium/Nickel Metal Hydride
These are rechargeable or “secondary” batteries. They are disassembled by shredding and/or hammer mill. Then the electrolytes are neutralized, the heavy metals are recovered by pyrometallurgical processes, and the heavy metals are sold back into the manufacturing chain.

f05a.jpg (13905 bytes)2) Lead Acid Batteries
(Nonautomotive, non–lift-truck types)
These, too, are rechargeable batteries that are smaller than the auto type and are usually dry. The batteries are broken up by hammer mills, the electrolytes are neutralized, and the lead is recovered through controlled-temperature processes. The lead is refined for resale.

f05a.jpg (13905 bytes)3) Mercuric Oxide, Silver Oxide, and Button Cell Batteries
Since silver oxide batteries contain mercury, they are grouped in this category. The number of mercuric oxide batteries is decreasing as more states are adopting legislation to prohibit their sale. The batteries are shredded, the electrolytes are neutralized, and the heavy metals are recovered through a controlled temperature process. The remainder of the battery is nonhazardous and is interned into a double-lined environmental protection facility.

f05a.jpg (13905 bytes)4) Lithium Batteries
Processes currently available:
• A lithium salt mixture is recovered and shipped to a facility that recovers pure lithium carbonate from the impure mixture of lithium salts. The lithium carbonate is then sold back to the battery manufacturers.
• The batteries are deactivated through a hydrosaline process, which renders them nonhazardous. The remains are interned into a double-lined environmental protection facility.

f05a.jpg (13905 bytes)5) Alkaline/Zinc Carbon Batteries
Zero Added Mercury (<.025% by weight mercury)
The batteries are shredded and given a slight acid bath to neutralize the electrolytes. This material is run through a rotary kiln to dry. Carbon steel turnings are blended in at a ratio of between 20 parts and 40 parts to one part of battery material. This blended material is pressed into magnetic bricks, which are transported to a steel mill for processing. In the furnace of the steel mill, the zinc from the battery is fumed off into a vacuum baghouse for recovery and resale as zinc oxide. The manganese dioxide becomes an alloy in the production of rebar steel.

Unknown levels of Mercury (>.025% by weight mercury)
These batteries were manufactured prior to July 1992, and one can assume that, by now, the bulk of this type of battery has found its way into the solid waste stream. The recommended management for these batteries is mercury retort.


Learning More About Battery Recycling Programs
Access Battery Inc
Access has created a national hospital recycling program. This new program was designed to provide new resources and a low-cost system to help hospitals set up successful programs and achieve compliance. A key component of the program is the issuance of certificates of reclamation.

An information packet regarding the program can be obtained by contacting the company directly: (800) 373-3301 or via email at [email protected].

Battery Solutions Inc
According to Battery Solutions, the demand for batteries will continue, spurred on by the ongoing technological advances in the battery industry and the portability of battery-operated equipment. The company offers battery-recycling solutions for businesses, government, and households to better service environmentally conscious consumers and to satisfy compliance with government regulations. Details of the company’s programs can be found at

Big Green Box
Big Green Box is a national program that offers companies, consumers, municipalities, and other generators a low cost, easy, and flexible way to recycle their batteries and portable electronic devices. For more information about Big Green Box’s programs visit

Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E)
The primary goal of the H2E effort is to educate health care professionals about pollution prevention opportunities in hospitals and health care systems. Through activities such as the development of best practices, model plans for total waste management, resource directories, and case studies, the project hopes to provide hospitals and health care systems with enhanced tools for minimizing the volumes of waste generated and the use of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals. Learn more about their Making Medicine Mercury Free program at

Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC)
RBRC is a nonprofit public service organization dedicated to recycling nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd), nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH), lithium ion (Li-ion), and small sealed lead (Pb) rechargeable batteries. RBRC offers recycling plans for retailers, businesses, communities, and public agencies. The program is free for consumers, retailers, communities, and public agencies. Participating businesses pay only for shipping to the reclamation facility. RBRC provides collection materials and pays recycling costs. Learn more about RBRC programs at

Toxco Inc
Toxco is one of the most diverse battery recycling companies in the world. It operates under strict guidelines from state and federal environmental protection agencies and recycles lithium, alkaline, nickel cadmium, nickel metal-hydride, lead, and mercury batteries. You can learn more about Toxco at

Starting a Program at the Hospital
The first step in establishing a program is to evaluate the current costs and methods being used. An often-overlooked solution is the use of a centralized procurement system. Many hospitals end up purchasing from a variety of sources. Centralized purchasing from one or two key battery vendors can minimize waste from overpurchasing or shelf-life expiration. This is a form of source reduction that can be key to pollution prevention. Often there are additional benefits, including volume discounts and discounts on shipping costs. Some questions to ask when evaluating costs:

    •    What fees and costs are you currently paying to dispose and recycle your batteries?
    •    What are the quantities and types (by chemistry) of batteries being purchased and eventually disposed?
    •    Are hospital staff being used to transport and deliver batteries off-site?
    •    How can these costs be minimized or eliminated?

The second step in setting up the program is selecting a recycling company. This company should be a certified waste handler that is contracted with an EPA-approved treatment storage disposal facility (TSDF). Ask the company if it has the required permits or state certificates. What types of batteries will it accept? (Not all companies will accept all battery chemistry types.)

The third step is procuring and setting up collection containers. Determine how many collection containers you will need. Will you have a central collection and storage area, or will you have multiple locations? Will your recycling company allow you to collect batteries in an all-in-one container, or will you be required to sort each battery by chemistry into separate containers. It is important to know that many companies require the batteries to be sorted and will charge high fees to sort batteries. Does your hospital have staff with the time and knowledge to correctly sort these batteries? Can the collection container also serve as a shipping container? A shipping container must be approved by the Department of Transportation to be used to ship batteries to a recycling company.

The fourth step is to gain employee participation. A successful battery recycling program will involve teamwork in all areas of the hospital. The program should be easy to learn and use. Perhaps start in one area of the hospital—like the biomedical department—first; then expand the program to other areas of the hospital as the program is successfully implemented.

The decision to start or improve a hospital recycling program is an economically and environmentally sound decision.

Charles E. Vorwaller is vice president of sales at Access Batteries Inc in Elizabeth, Colo.