Latest smartphones use batteries that are primarily Li-Ion technology which avoids the memory effect and hold more charge. However, they can be damaged by extensive overcharging such as charging continuously for more than 24 hours, susceptible to runaway heating, and can catch fire from contact with water. Nevertheless, Li-Ion is the most advanced battery technology in the consumer market.
Today’s smartphones with more powerful features and apps are being used almost continuously. On the other hand, not much has been achieved to help the batteries keep pace with this ever-growing trend, according to battery experts. Their constant day long use for calling, texting, Instagram, and power-hungry features such as a camera flash, video calling, on-board GPS and location services demand spare battery packs and even larger capacity replacement batteries. Electronics stores also have increased battery supply needs because of the widespread technique of troubleshooting cell phones by switching out the only replaceable part, the battery.
Unlike typical 1.5V batteries, rechargeable batteries are classified as household hazardous waste and cannot be discarded together with ordinary trash destined for landfills. Environmentally hazardous, toxic metals, like batteries, can be released when battery casings deteriorate, and leach into the soil, groundwater, and eventually into the food cycle. In addition, the materials batteries are made from can cause them to burst into flame on exposure to heat or contact with water. The heavy metals inside rechargeable batteries that let them accept recharging, also make them household hazardous waste that must be handled separately.
There is a glut of usable batteries discarded in troubleshooting cell phone problems, which still have a lot of useful life. Recycling materials from cell phone batteries also recover materials that can be sold to make other products. Lithium-Ion batteries can be recycled to recover lithium that is sold to produce lubricating greases, and cobalt which is also sold. Apart from hand-held consumer electronics, Li-Ion battery technology is also used in electric and hybrid cars, which are expected to increase in market share compared to petroleum-fueled automobiles. In the future, the supply of electric-car batteries might constrain the world’s supply of lithium, another good reason to start recycling Li-Ion batteries now.
Like any other kind of household hazardous waste, rechargeable cell phone batteries must be recycled responsibly to safeguard our health and prevent injury. Tomorrow’s economy may look different from today’s with increased use of reuse-recycle of products to maximize their useful life, reduce obsolescence and help save the environment. Recycling cell phone batteries responsibly is a step towards that future.