What does a battery contain?

Batteries come in many different shapes and sizes. There are those that can be used for one cycle, and also rechargeable variants. What the battery contains depends on the type of battery it is, and there is a big difference between how the different types work and how they later are recycled.

Our most common battery type: Non-rechargeable Alkaline battery cell

Small batteries are usually divided into two groups. The one-cycle-use variant is the “regular” loose batteries that you insert and remove from flashlights, remote controls, alarm clocks or toys. When they are finished, they should be disposed of in a recycling bin, recycling centre or in a store. Rechargeable batteries are those in your smartphone, tablet, electric toothbrush, drill or camera, for example. Simply put, all gadgets that can be charged again. When the battery no longer can be charged, the entire gadget is regarded as electrical waste and must therefore be recycled at a recycling centre. Smaller electrical waste can also be handed in to stores that sell electrical equipment.

An alkaline battery structure

Structure of our most common battery type: Non-rechargeable Alkaline battery cell

How are batteries recycled?

All batteries are pre-treated before their material is passed on for disposal or recycling. Here we explain the different steps in the recycling process.

  1. Batteries that are integrated within a product are first removed by hand at a recycling facility. Then the batteries are sorted into size and content. In a first step, button cell batteries are filtered through a shaking grid where they are sorted out into a separate fraction of a certain size. As a precaution, all small button cell batteries are handled in the same process even though only some of them contain mercury.
  2. Then, the batteries are sorted out into different fractions depending on their chemical content. Some of these, such as cadmium, are sorted out to be phased out of the cycle. Others, such as Lithium, are sorted out for material recycling.
  3. About 80 percent of all batteries collected are alkaline one-cycle-use batteries. When you crush the alkaline batteries, you get the battery’s anode and cathode material in powder form. The powder is often called black mass because it turns black from the large amount of carbon. Manganese and zinc are also found in the black mass, which means that black mass is often added in the smelters where steel is produced. By separating the black mass from plastic, paper, and brass in alkaline batteries, you can obtain the brass, which increases the battery’s total recycling rate by approximately 3 percent..
  4. Each fraction is crushed and handled in closed systems. For Lithium-ion, for example, it is important to separate metal casings and reaction-sensitive materials in a safe way so that the materials can be recycled. Alkaline batteries consist mainly of metal, plastic and a lot of zinc and manganese. Through the process, metal and plastic are sorted out for recycling while the battery mass is either recycled or disposed of as hazardous waste.

In 2020, we collected 3,460,396 kilos of batteries, which corresponds to 0.33 kilo per inhabitant.

El-Kretsen’s collection statistics of 2020

Published 2021-04-26