What happens to an automotive battery when it’s recycled?
Automotive batteries are the most recycled consumer product in North America. So what does a recycled battery become? In many cases, the components are broken down and turned into new lead batteries. The components also may find their way into other consumer products.
At the recycling facility, the plastic cases and covers are crushed and broken down into pellets. Some of those pellets are sent away to be used in products like detergent containers, fleece jackets, carpeting and composite lumber. And many of the pellets are melted down and used for new battery cases.
The lead inside an automotive battery is useful and highly recyclable. A recycling facility will melt down the grids, posts and terminals into lead ingots, which can then be made into new grids, posts and terminals. Recovered lead oxide also is used in new battery manufacturing.
You may be surprised to learn what becomes of the electrolyte, a.k.a. battery acid. Sodium sulfate crystals separated from the acid are recycled and sold for use in textiles, glass and detergent manufacturing. Yep, your laundry detergent may contain parts of an old battery! At some recycling facilities, the electrolyte is chemically treated and reused for new batteries. At other facilities, the acid is neutralized and sent to a water treatment plant.
If you’re a visual learner, check out this nifty little PDF on the recycling process: