Impact Of Batteries On The Environment & Human Health

In the guide below, we outline the potential impact of battery waste on the environment, and also on human health.

This guide is complementary to our separate guide on the disposal and recycling of batteries.


Summary – Impact Of Batteries On The Environment & Human Health

Why Are Batteries Potentially Harmful?

Some batteries are made of potentially harmful metals and chemicals

When batteries are not disposed of properly, these heavy metals and chemicals can leach into the environment, and can also be exposed to humans.


Potential Impact Of Batteries On The Environment

Some of the environmental effects may include but aren’t limited to:

The environmental impact of mining for metal ores and raw materials used to make batteries

Pollution and contamination of the environment, water, soil, etc, caused by battery metals and chemicals

Battery recycling may also have an energy and water footprint, and there’s leftover waste byproduct to consider too


Potential Impact Of Batteries On Human Health

The heavy metals and chemicals in batteries may have potential to act as carcinogens, be toxic in some ways, or impact human health in other ways


Which Batteries Are Most Harmful?

It all depends on the metals and chemicals in the batteries. We list some potentially harmful batteries in the guide below


How To Potentially Reduce The Impact Of Batteries

Some solutions may include but aren’t limited to:

Potential solutions to reduce the impact of batteries might include but aren’t limited to:

Reduce battery usage, and use devices that don’t use batteries (where possible)

Use rechargeable batteries over non rechargeable batteries where it’s more sustainable

Recycle batteries (where possible)

Accountability for battery manufacturers


Potentially Harmful Metals, Materials & Chemicals Found In Batteries

Batteries may contain various metals (some heavy metals), and toxic or corrosive chemicals



… a battery contains one or more of the following metals: cadmium, lead, zinc, manganese, nickel, silver, mercury, and lithium, as well as acids

[Lead, sulfuric acid, and cadmium are all battery chemicals/metals that have the potential to impact humans and the environment]


[Batteries can contain] toxic or corrosive materials like …. cadmium and mercury, lead and lithium, which become hazardous waste and pose threats to health and the environment if improperly disposed (


[Found in batteries are] cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, lithium and electrolytes.

[We outline some of the potential effects of these metals and chemicals in the guide below]



From There are a wide range of battery types, many of which contain toxic metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead.


What Environmental & Human Health Issues Do Batteries Contribute To?

Impact On Environment

– Mining

Mining has the potential to contribute to environmental issues such as land, water and air pollution, as well as habitat displacement for wildlife.


– Pollution & Contamination Of Environment

When batteries are not disposed of properly, the heavy metals and chemicals in batteries may leach into the environment and contaminate water and soil sources

There may also be chemical reactions in the environment from the battery chemicals, which contribute to further environmental issues

Wildlife may also be harm by the toxicity of battery chemicals and heavy metals

Lead, cadmium, and mercury are metals that have had an impact on the environment in the past – just to name a few.



[The mining of metals has it’s own set of sustainability and environmental issues, and the exposure/release of battery chemicals in the environment can be toxic and harmful]

[Batteries decomposing in landfill can emit air contaminants and greenhouse gases]

[Batteries can leach chemicals into soil and water, causing contamination of the soil and water. Wildlife can be impacted, as well as humans if they drink contaminated water or eat contaminated aquatic species]


Batteries contain a number of heavy metals and toxic chemicals and disposing of them by the same process as regular trash has raised concerns over soil contamination and water pollution (


When thrown in the household trash, batteries end up in landfills.

As the battery casing corrodes, chemicals leach into the soil and make their way into our water supply. Eventually they reach the ocean.



[Batteries can contribute to the consumption of natural resources, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and water contamination] (


Chemicals from batteries which are incinerated or go to landfill may pollute lakes and streams, vaporise into the air, or leach into groundwater, exposing the environment to highly corrosive acids and bases (


– Battery Recycling

Battery recycling has it’s own sustainability footprint and waste by-products to consider


[It’s worth noting the battery recycling process can be energy intensive] (

There may be a carbon footprint to consider from this energy use.


Impact On Human Health lists some of the potential human health impacts of batteries below

From the information in the above section, also mentioned that battery chemicals can get into the water supply when battery casings corrode


[Found in batteries are] cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, lithium and electrolytes.

… cadmium and nickel are known human carcinogens.

Lead has been linked to birth defects and to neurological and developmental damage

… lithium in batteries reacts in a volatile way when exposed. … lithium can [also] cause landfill fires that can burn underground for years. This releases toxic chemicals into the air, which increases the potential for human exposure.

Mercury is also highly toxic, especially in vapor form [but] the government banned its use in batteries in 1996



California no longer allows batteries to be disposed of in the trash because they contain toxic metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel.

If released, these metals may be harmful to humans and the environment.



Which Batteries Have The Most Impact On The Environment & Human Health?

Lead and cadmium based batteries might pose the highest environmental concern

Rechargeable batteries may contain potentially harmful heavy metals when not disposed of properly



Lead- and cadmium-based batteries pose the largest environmental concerns

[Lithium ion is only mildly toxic … but the sheer volume of these batteries can be a concern]

[Mercury can also be an issue, but the] mercury content in alkaline batteries [was lowered] in 1996 …


Rechargeable batteries contain dangerous heavy metals and should always be recycled (


Going into the future, the impact of electric vehicle batteries also has to be considered.


Potential Solutions To Reduce The Negative Impact Of Battery Waste

– Reduce Battery Usage, & Use Devices That Don’t Use Batteries (Where Possible)

Corded power tools, household devices like vacuums, and other devices may be able to run from an outlet with a cord, and don’t need a battery.


– Use Rechargeable Batteries Over Non Rechargeable Batteries Where It’s More Sustainable

In some instances, rechargeable batteries may have a much longer lifespan than single use batteries like some single use alkaline batteries, and may also have a better overall sustainability footprint.


– Recycle Batteries

Some batteries can be recycled, and some can’t.

Using batteries that can be recycled, and dropping them off to effective and economically feasible recycling programs may help.


[On a positive note] … about 90 percent of lead-acid batteries are now recycled (


From [Some battery types] contain valuable materials like magnesium and zinc.


– Accountability For Battery Manufacturers

To either reduce or cut harmful chemicals from their products, and/or make them responsible to help out with battery disposal and recycling programs


[Forcing battery manufacturers to pay for their waste footprint, as well as ensuring they cut harmful chemicals like cadmium and mercury – are two potential ways negative battery impacts can be reduced] (













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