Batteries are 100 recyclable
Pollutants and valuable raw materials
According to the "Foundation for the Joint Return System for Batteries", almost 100 percent of the rechargeable batteries and batteries returned are recycled. However, it is estimated that just under half of the batteries purchased are disposed of in such a way that they can be recycled.
Batteries can contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or mercury. It has been illegal to use mercury in batteries since 2001, but there are still some old batteries that contain the heavy metal.
Of the total of 52,000 tons of portable batteries that are sold annually in Germany, only a few percent are still contaminated with the pollutants mentioned. However, there are no really environmentally friendly batteries that are completely free of harmful substances.
Laypeople usually differentiate between batteries and accumulators. By batteries, experts mean disposable batteries, so-called primary cells, which can only be used once. If they are empty, they cannot be recharged. Zinc-carbon and alkaline-manganese batteries are the most popular primary cells.
What is usually referred to as a battery is called a secondary cell in technical jargon. The life of the secondary cells is not unlimited either, but these batteries can often be recharged and used again. Lead, nickel, cadmium or lithium-ion batteries are the best-known representatives of secondary cells.
Battery sorting and recycling
Batteries do not have to be collected separately according to their components, they can all be thrown into the so-called BATT boxes of the "Foundation for the Joint Take-Back System for Batteries" or returned to the trade.
The batteries are sorted in the recycling facilities and then separated into their individual components for further recycling. From nickel-cadmium batteries, for example, the cadmium is distilled off and used for the production of new energy cells. The waste products steel and nickel are used to manufacture stainless steel.
Batteries that contain hydrogen are crushed under certain precautionary measures and are also used for the manufacture of stainless steel. Lead batteries have to be smelted in order to separate the metal from the other substances. The recovered lead can then be used again for batteries.
However, many single-use batteries still have to be landfilled because they contain residues of mercury that cannot be evaporated. It can still take years for all used batteries sold before 2001 that contain the heavy metal to be returned - if they are returned at all.
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