18
\$\begingroup\$

I replaced a lithium ion battery in a device and the old battery is swollen/bulging but no otherwise damaged.

My municipality (NYC) requires many retailers to accept batteries or devices containing them but I am concerned that none of them can safely handle a damaged battery. I asked one retailer if they would accept my damaged battery and they told me that they would simply throw it away (which is expressly prohibited by city law) because they have no way to safely store or handle damaged batteries.

I have read from various sources that immersing the battery in salt water for an extended period of time (ranging from 1 day to 2 weeks!) will discharge the battery and that lithium (ion?) batteries that have been completely discharged can be safely thrown away with household trash.

But then other sources claim that the salt water can corrode the contacts of the battery's cells sufficiently to prevent complete discharge, thus rendering the battery both not completely discharged (and thus capable of thermal conflagration) and not capable of being discharged by any means.

So how could I safely dispose of a damaged lithium ion battery myself?

The NYC Special Waste Drop-Off Sites seem like my best bet in terms of someone else safely disposing of the battery but the info about those sites on the city's websites are worryingly vague or silent about whether they accept damaged batteries.

I don't want to assume that any of the organizations or institutions that are legally required to accept batteries are capable of safely doing so for my damaged battery. Given that one retailer has already told me that they would (illegally) dispose of the damaged battery, I'd like to know how to safely dispose of the battery, or at least render it (mostly) inert, myself.

Here's a very related question:

A bunch of example links:

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @KennyEvitt, maybe, I don't have the advantage of observing it (or any specialist knowledge), but very little excess pressure is required to make the standard foil bags swell - and gas is generated by the cells aging. Agreed, you killed the cell by overheating it, but this mostly accelerated the aging process from what I've read recently. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Houlihane Oct 14 '16 at 18:48
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Got it. But my experiences with local authorities in the western US are poor. Agencies do often hire someone who actually has the training and knowledge to answer such questions well. But finding those individuals, for me, has been hard and took lots of calendar time. Once you do, you are happy. But getting there is not so easy. You get a lot of people on the front lines with opinions, but they don't actually know. Also, I'd be wary that what some people think happens, is actually what does happen. Too much profit to be made by taking shortcuts along the line. \$\endgroup\$ – jonk Oct 14 '16 at 18:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Then you are out of luck. Those things contain lithium and likely fluoride too, which both you can't safely dispose yourself \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Oct 14 '16 at 19:16
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You are making this way too complicated. Discharge the battery using a resistor (forget about salt water) and then take it to the NYC Special Waste Drop-off Site. Most likely the battery has a protection circuit which will cut off discharge at around 3V or so. So use a resistor that draws around C/10 A, and leave it connected for 1 day. \$\endgroup\$ – mkeith Oct 16 '16 at 17:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Just came across this website: call2recycle.org/safety/… \$\endgroup\$ – Nilesh Dattani Oct 5 '18 at 0:48
2
\$\begingroup\$

Be clear there are two levels of "damaged": bulging, and breached.

Li-Ion batteries will have single thermal event: once the airtight case is breached they'll rapidly discharge: if there's enough energy in the battery they'll heat up perhaps to the point of catching fire. Once that's happened there's no more energy, it's just toxic waste. In my experience the batteries just get hot and smolder.

Thus you have one more option: (1) discharge the battery as much as you can, (2) move into a completely safe space, puncture the battery, let it heat up (or not), and then dispose of it like any other hazardous waste at a Household Hazardous Waste facility. At that point it's not a battery, it's chemicals.

https://www.epa.gov/hw/household-hazardous-waste-hhw


Practically what I do is tape over the terminals of the old battery, and gently deposit in a battery collection facility. They're the experts: it's up to them to determine where each battery goes. Every collection center already has to deal with the potential for fires, and the need for safe transport.


Frankly the advice to use a special $100 bag to dispose of such batteries is bad advice. Almost nobody will ever do it: the battery will either remain on the shelf or get chucked in the general trash, an outcome worse than the problem you set out to solve.

\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

Yes discharging bare tabbed cells to less than 1v at around 1 amp ie automotive bulb is safe but the cell may get hot. This procedure is best done outside and after checking with meter 12 hours later if negligible voltage found when open circuit 1 hour later then proceed with careful slash / salt water method. Cell will bubble for a bit but then is moderately safe and unlikely for water saturated layers to then combust. Leave 24 hours minimum to ensure maximum safety and avoid contact with contaminated salt water or battery components.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ How then should the contaminated salt water and battery components be disposed of safely? \$\endgroup\$ – Kenny Evitt Aug 5 '17 at 20:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Leave to dry, then throw out with household trash in a sealed container. \$\endgroup\$ – τεκ Oct 5 '18 at 1:13
1
\$\begingroup\$

Lithium Ion batteries cannot be disposed of in your trash either! Although the back of a trash truck is usually wetter and less likely to feed the sparks from these batteries and start a fire-they are still considered a toxic material known as household hazardous waste. They pose numerous health and environmental hazards. When you discard them, they must be disposed of at a household hazardous waste collection point (check with your local landfill) or battery recycling drop off location, NOT placed in the trash.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't seem like you carefully read my question. I mentioned that someone already effectively offered to throw away the damaged battery with regular trash even tho that "is expressly prohibited by city law". There are also places in the world for which there are no 'household hazardous waste collection points'. The damaged battery was also refused by several places that otherwise accepts batteries for recycling. Even the 'special waste dropoff' in my city doesn't explicitly state that they accept damaged batteries. \$\endgroup\$ – Kenny Evitt Nov 15 '17 at 14:42
1
\$\begingroup\$

Nilesh Dattani linked to this site in a comment:

specifically this page:

From the above-linked page, on handling damaged batteries:

Call2Recycle offers a recycling service that meets the U.S. DOT packaging, handling and transportation requirements under a special permit granted by the federal government. The service provides the appropriate solution based on the battery type and applicable shipping requirements. We also provide services for defective and recalled batteries when, for example, a manufacturer or the Consumer Product Safety Commission have identified a performance or safety issue and the battery needs to be safely transported.

If you think you have a damaged, defective or recalled battery, visit the store or for more information or help, contact Customer Service, who will discuss the appropriate solution. You can read more about our battery recycling services below.

...

Consumers: Place the battery or device in a non-flammable material such as sand or kitty litter as soon as possible. Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission or manufacturer web site or visit the retailer you purchased it from to see if the battery or device has been recalled. If it has, follow the instructions.

As an alternative, place the battery or device (one per bag) in a clear plastic bag and take it to your municipal household hazardous waste (HHW) recycling center. You can also contact a local Call2Recycle drop-off site to see if it accepts damaged batteries. Do not place them in the trash for any reason.

On the Call2Recycle store page are listed small and large "Damaged, Defective or Recalled Lithium Battery Kit[s]":

Unfortunately, the kits are somewhat expensive, $75 and $100 respectively. Fortunately, the site seems like it offers a very reasonable, and hopefully very safe, way to dispose of a damaged lithium ion battery.

\$\endgroup\$
-3
\$\begingroup\$

just put it in plastic bag and take it to a homedepot store and put it in there battery recycle bin. then it goes to appropriate place to deal with it rather than in trash or junk yard

\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Home Depot almost certainly will not accept a damaged battery. If you can cite evidence to the contrary, and edit your answer to that effect, I'll change my downvote to an upvote. \$\endgroup\$ – Kenny Evitt Jan 28 '18 at 18:49

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.