A battery is a device in which the energy of a chemical reaction can be converted into electricity.

Batteries range in size and use. 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.

A lead-acid battery consists of a polypropylene casing; lead terminals; positive and negative internal plates; lead oxide; electrolyte, a dilute solution of sulfuric acid and water; and plastic separators that are made from 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 batteries are easily returned when a new battery is purchased and because a battery's lead and plastic components are valuable.

This profile is limited to lead-acid batteries used by motor vehicles.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at: cmiller@envasns.org

Lead-acid Batteries Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts


  • 1.94 million tons or 0.9% of MSW by weight.*
  • 13.8 pounds per person.*
  • 106.6 million batteries were shipped by U.S manufacturers to end-users in North America in 2001.
  • A new lead-acid car battery is bought every 2.7 years.


  • 1.87 million tons for a 96.4% recycling rate.*
  • 9 states have battery deposit laws.
  • 36 states require retailers to collect old lead-acid batteries from customers who buy new batteries.

Recycled Content:

  • A “typical” battery has 60 percent to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic.


  • Lead, battery acid and plastic are not compostable.
  • Lead-acid batteries should never be placed in a composting pile.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 70,000 tons or less than 0.1% of discarded MSW by weight.*
  • Lead-acid batteries should not be incinerated due to some of the constituents of the battery.
  • 41 states ban the disposal of lead-acid batteries in Subtitle D landfills.

Landfill Volume:

  • Negligible because of the high recycling rate.


  • An average car battery weighs 39 pounds.
  • An average truck battery weighs 53 pounds.
  • An average motorcycle battery weighs 9.5 pounds.

Source Reduction:

  • In 10 years, car battery cycles have increased from 2,500 to 6,000.
  • Industrial batteries can last 10 years to 20 years.

Recycling Markets:

  • Polypropylene casings are processed into new battery casings.
  • Lead is recycled into lead plates and other battery parts.
  • Battery acid is either neutralized, treated and discharged into sewers, or processed into sodium sulfate, which is a powder used in laundry detergent, glass and textile manufacturing.


Battery Council International, Chicago, Ill. www.batterycouncil.org

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

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 1998,” EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2000. www.epa.gov/osw

Waste Age, Atlanta, “If They Ban It, Will It Go Away?,” October, 1993. www.wasteage.com

*2000 EPA estimates.