How Long Does it Take for Batteries to Decompose?

Before you toss a set of batteries in the garbage, consider the repercussions your actions might have for the planet. A single battery takes centuries to decompose and even then, might contain materials that never completely decompose. Improper battery disposal can lead to landfill damage and contaminated water sources. By understanding how your old batteries affect the environment, you can choose healthier ways to get rid of old batteries while protecting the earth from harmful materials and chemicals.

Rechargeable batteries
Purchase rechargeable batteries to reduce the environmental impact of battery disposal.
credit: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Battery Consumption

The Environmental Protection Agency notes that Americans purchase nearly three billion dry-cell batteries each year. Those batteries power small electronics, phones, computers and other devices you use on a daily basis. 99 million wet-cell batteries for cars and automotives are also manufactured on a yearly basis. Batteries are in fact recyclable and the materials recovered from the recycling process can be used to make new batteries, therefore keeping billions of batteries out of landfills each year.

Battery Decomposition

The timeline for the decomposition of a battery is complicated because a battery contains two types of material; the outer plastic and metal components and the inner chemicals. North Dakota State University estimates that the outer materials of a battery take about 100 years to decompose, but the chemicals within the battery have an indefinite timeline, meaning they never fully decompose. While most batteries end up in a landfill, decomposing chemicals have serious repercussions for water sources.

Proper Disposal

When your camera, phone, radio or flashlight batteries are dead, the best course of action is to locate a battery recycling facility. Since battery recycling facilities are often only in specific areas, various electronic stores often offer drop-off centers where you can bring your dead batteries in for credit or exchange and the batteries are then shipped to a recycling facility.

Rechargeable Batteries

If you really want to make an environmental difference, reduce the amount of batteries that end up being thrown into landfills altogether. The best way to help the buildup of battery waste is to actively choose rechargeable batteries for your electronic devices. Rechargeable batteries are typically more expensive than the disposable variety, but they can save you money in the long term while helping avoid long decomposition times in landfills across the country.