Recycling Lead-Acid Powersports Batteries - a closed loop cycle
Replacing the battery in your motorcycle or ATV gives your vehicle the starting power it needs, but it also poses a problem for DIY-ers: what do you do with your old battery?
All lead-acid batteries - that includes automotive, motorcycle, conventional lead-acid and all AGM batteries - are 100% recyclable. Every component of lead-acid batteries gets reused; plastic is reprocessed into new battery cases, lead pieces are refined and reprocessed into new batteries and other components, and the acid in the battery is either neutralized and processed into clean water or converted into sodium sulfate to be used in laundry detergent.
All these components, which are extremely harmful to the environment and to humans when simply thrown in the trash, can easily be repurposed into useful consumables - including motorcycle batteries!
Lead-acid battery recycling the "environmental success story of our time"
In the US, more than 97% of all lead-acid batteries are recycled. Industry leaders, such as the Battery Council International, give this rate high acclaim, stating that "lead-acid batteries are the environmental success story of our time". In comparison, aluminum beverage cans are at a 55% recycling rate, newspapers at 45% and glass bottles at a mere 26%.
Lead-acid batteries' high rate of recycling is good news for the powersports battery industry as well as for the environment. Because so many of the original materials used to manufacture lead-acid batteries are reused, there's very little need to source costly new lead, acid and plastic. Lead is an extremely valuable material, and the costs of reclaiming lead are far lower - and more sustainable - than those of mining new lead. With the conscious effort of automotive technicians and consumers, powersports battery industry doesn't need to worry about a shortage of lead supply anytime soon.
For riders like us, that means lower cost and lots of power - for us, and for our grandchildren.
How does the recycling process work?
Lead-acid batteries are recycled through a process called "hydroseparation". This simply means that the batteries are broken up into pieces then submerged in water, causing the plastic pieces to float to the top and lead to sink to the bottom so that both can be easily collected.
Polypropylene plastic pieces are skimmed off the top and reclaimed as raw materials - which are often made back into battery cases. The lead is captured from the bottom of the separation tank; it's then melted, refined and purified before being re-casted. Lead is nearly indestructible, so used lead parts can be recycled into new parts almost indefinitely.
The amount of raw materials reclaimed from lead-acid battery recycling is considerable. Recycled automotive lead-acid batteries result in roughly 20lbs of reclaimed lead, a gallon of sulfuric acid and 2lbs of plastic. While motorcycle and other powersports batteries are smaller than automotive batteries, these still represent a considerable amount of potentially reclaimed raw materials.
Where to recycle lead-acid batteries
If you're changing your own motorcycle battery, the burden of getting your used battery in the hands of a recycling facility falls on you. But don't worry! Recycling websites like Earth911.com have comprehensive directories of recycling facilities, searchable by material type (lead-acid batteries, in this case), city and state. Lead-acid battery recycling facilities are widely available in both urban and rural areas. Some areas even offer curbside pickup. Additionally, most automotive parts supply stores will accept used batteries for recycling.
Next time you swap out your old motorcycle battery, make sure you help maintain a sustainable industry by disposing of it responsibly.