A battery is a device in which the energy of a chemical reaction is converted into electricity. Small, sealed button and six-volt batteries are used for consumer products. “Starting batteries” deliver a short burst of high power to start engines. “Deep cycle batteries” deliver a low, steady level of power for electrical accessories, such as trolling motors on boats. Large industrial batteries have thicker plates and can supply low, steady power for years. This profile is limited to lead-acid batteries used by motor vehicles.

A lead-acid battery consists of a polypropylene casing; lead terminals and positive and negative internal plates; lead oxide; and electrolyte, a dilute solution of sulfuric acid and water and plastic separators that are made of a porous synthetic material. More than 80 percent of the lead produced in America is used in lead-acid batteries.

Lead-acid batteries have the highest recycling rate of any product sold in the United States. This is because of the ease of returning a used battery when purchasing a new battery and the value of the lead and plastic components of the used battery.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington. E-mail him at: cmiller@envasns.org.


Battery Council International, www.batterycouncil.org

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, www.nrc-recycle.org

“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2007 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2008, www.epa.gov/osw

Waste Age, “If They Ban It, Will It Go Away?”, Oct. 1993

Data is from 2007 EPA estimates, except where noted.




  • 2.54 million tons, or 1.0% by weight.

  • 16.84 pounds per person per year.

  • The average life of a car battery is four years.

  • The average life of a truck battery is three years.

  • A car battery contains 21.4 pounds of lead.


  • 2.52 million tons, or a 99.2% recycling rate.

  • 99% of battery lead is recycled, according to industry data.

  • Nine states have battery deposit laws.

  • Most states require retailers to collect old lead-acid batteries from customers who buy new batteries.