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Lead-Acid Batteries

A BATTERY IS A DEVICE in which the energy of a chemical reaction can be 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; and 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; electrolyte, a dilute solution of sulfuric acid and water; and plastic separators 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, D.C. E-mail the author at: cmiller@envasns.org

Lead-Acid Battery Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 2.29 million tons or 1.0% by weight.*

  • 15.75 pounds (lbs.) per person.*

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

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

  • The amount of lead in a car battery is 21.4 lbs.


  • 2.13 million tons or 93%.*

  • 97% of battery lead is recycled (industry data).

  • Nine states have battery deposit laws.

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

Recycled Content:

  • A typical battery has 60% to 80% recycled lead and plastic.


  • Lead-acid batteries should never be placed in a composting pile.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 160,000 tons or 0.1% by weight.*

  • Should not be incinerated.

  • 41 states ban disposal in Subtitle D landfills.

Landfill Volume:

  • Negligible.


  • Average car battery weighs 39 lbs.

  • Average truck battery weighs 53 lbs.

  • Average motorcycle battery weighs 9.5 lbs.


  • In 10 years, car battery cycles have increased from 2500 to 6000.

  • Industrial batteries can last 10 to 20 years.

Recycling Markets:

  • Polypropylene casings processed back 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, a powder used in laundry detergent, glass and textile manufacturing.


Battery Council International, www.batterycouncil.org

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

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2003,” U.S. EPA, 2005, www.epa.gov/osw

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

*EPA estimates for 2003