Most people have some kind of drawer full of junk, and in almost all of those drawers you’ll find a dead battery or two.
But luckily, in many places you can now actually throw those used AAAs into the trash. You can also recycle them at tons of locations across the country.
Here’s how to know if you can toss those batteries or not.
First, it depends on what kind of battery you’re trying to get rid of.
Car batteries, and any other type of large, lead-acid battery, can’t go in your household trash or recycling. This should be obvious once you hear “lead” and “acid” — two things that shouldn’t be released into the environment willy-nilly.
The good news is that 98% of lead acid batteries are being recycled already, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. You can look up where to dispose of car and other lead-acid batteries on Earth911.
No rechargeable batteries should go in the trash, either. They almost always contain nickel cadmium, which according to the EPA can leach into the soil, water and air in landfills or incinerators. The package should warn you that you have to take the rechargeable batteries to a collection site.
But for regular batteries that power our remotes and toys, the question is a little trickier to answer. And they’re a big sector, too: Americans purchase over 3 billion dry-cell batteries a year, according to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
You’ve probably heard that you were never supposed to throw away AA, AAA, or other letter-named batteries. This was because in the past, they were made from harmful heavy metals like mercury,lead, cadmium, and nickel.
But many companies started removing these ingredients from their products in the early 1990s, and the 1996 Battery Act meant they all had to phase out mercury, so the batteries we use today are safer to throw directly into the trash.
Duracell says its household batteries are made of steel, zinc, and manganese, and can be thrown away in your normal trash.
But this recommendation can differ from what local governments say, which is who you really should look it up.
NYC, for example, says you can throw away alkaline batteries with the household trash, while California classifies all batteries as “hazardous waste.” San Francisco recommends putting them in their own bag or in a collection bin provided by your apartment building.
And while many people can now throw their batteries into the trash, they can also be recycled into tons of different things — from cement to new batteries — so you should drop them off at collection sites so they aren’t wasted. Earth911 has a search tool for that, too.
No matter what you decide to do with your regular batteries, make sure you tape the ends, because they could have a little spark left and start a fire if they come into contact with other batteries.