When the main power unexpectedly goes out, an Uninterruptible Power Supply unit delivers consistently reliable emergency battery power to power-hungry electronics for several minutes – just enough time to save unfinished documents and gracefully shut down the computer and other sensitive devices. While the peace-of-mind that comes with avoiding a potentially catastrophic power interruption is priceless, the battery that is at the heart of the UPS – like all lead-acid batteries — is liable to eventually stop holding a charge and must be recycled or disposed of safely.
When not disposed of properly, a lead-acid battery can become a potent threat to the health and safety of our community. The hazardous acid of an old battery can be absorbed into the surrounding ecosystem, seeping into waterways and farming land, causing severe contamination. Luckily, our health and environment can be easily shielded from the threat of discarded lead-acid batteries by safely recycling, as we will explain below.
How it Works
Much like the batteries that power automotive startup motors, UPS batteries store electricity via a process of reverse chemical reaction involving lead-acid. This happens when positive and negative plates are suspended in a solution of sulfuric acid and water, commonly called electrolyte. Batteries work in cycles of regular charging and discharging. When a device is running on battery power, such as your laptop, it discharges the battery. This loss can be reversed by simply recharging the battery.
However, there is a maximum limit to the number of charge/discharge cycles that can be repeated before the battery can no longer hold a charge. At this point, the battery must be replaced with a new one to continue enjoying the benefits of a UPS.
Fortunately for the environment, UPS batteries are widely recycled. In fact, according to recent statistics from the Battery Council International, 98 percent of all lead-acid batteries were recycled between 2009 and 2013. This recycling rate was higher than that of any other consumer and industrial product, including newspapers, glass bottles, car tires and aluminum cans.
The Recycling Process
Once a used battery is detached and brought to a qualified recycler, the plastic and lead components are reclaimed following stringent regulations where the battery is crushed into nickel-sized pieces separated into individual components. The recycled plastic is used for the production of new plastic goods, including plastic wheels and automotive parts, while the lead is shipped off to other, mostly industrial, manufacturers. In fact, recycled lead is used for a wide variety of industrial applications besides the manufacture of batteries, including nuclear shielding, electronics, TV screens, roofing material and military ammunition.
This recycling process is so reliable that up to 80 percent of a typical new lead-acid battery is made up of recycled plastic and lead. It doesn’t stop there! The recycling process for an old battery can continue on indefinitely. This means the newly manufactured battery from old components itself can be recycled – over and over!
Federal and State Regulations
The recycling process not only reclaims valuable components from the battery, it also protects the planet from the dangers of toxic contamination. When that is not convincing enough, federal and state laws step in to mandate that lead-acid batteries are disposed of under strict guidelines. It is against the law to dispose of old UPS batteries in the trash. In fact, most states require that an old battery must be reclaimed for every new battery sold by retailers. Other states even enforce a strict UPS battery disposal ban due to their dangerous lead-acid content.
For its part, the US Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act in 1996. This law stipulates that, among other requirements, batteries must be simple to remove from consumer products to encourage recycling. This act also calls for battery labels and symbols that indicate the battery’s chemistry and specify ways for the user to recycle or safely dispose of the battery.
Fortunately for consumers, safely disposing of an old battery is a simple process. Most battery vendors readily accept used UPS batteries. Well-known merchants that support this UPS battery recycling program include Advanced Auto, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Home Depot and Staples. These vendors then ship the used batteries they have collected to licensed recycling centers as mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Content Provided by Kaszi Julia as a guest post.