Electronic – How to safely dispose of a damaged lithium ion battery

lithium ionsafety

I replaced a lithium ion battery in a device and the old battery is swollen/bulging but no otherwise damaged.

My municipality (NYC) requires many retailers to accept batteries or devices containing them but I am concerned that none of them can safely handle a damaged battery. I asked one retailer if they would accept my damaged battery and they told me that they would simply throw it away (which is expressly prohibited by city law) because they have no way to safely store or handle damaged batteries.

I have read from various sources that immersing the battery in salt water for an extended period of time (ranging from 1 day to 2 weeks!) will discharge the battery and that lithium (ion?) batteries that have been completely discharged can be safely thrown away with household trash.

But then other sources claim that the salt water can corrode the contacts of the battery's cells sufficiently to prevent complete discharge, thus rendering the battery both not completely discharged (and thus capable of thermal conflagration) and not capable of being discharged by any means.

So how could I safely dispose of a damaged lithium ion battery myself?

The NYC Special Waste Drop-Off Sites seem like my best bet in terms of someone else safely disposing of the battery but the info about those sites on the city's websites are worryingly vague or silent about whether they accept damaged batteries.

I don't want to assume that any of the organizations or institutions that are legally required to accept batteries are capable of safely doing so for my damaged battery. Given that one retailer has already told me that they would (illegally) dispose of the damaged battery, I'd like to know how to safely dispose of the battery, or at least render it (mostly) inert, myself.

Here's a very related question:

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Best Answer

Be clear there are two levels of "damaged": bulging, and breached.

Li-Ion batteries will have single thermal event: once the airtight case is breached they'll rapidly discharge: if there's enough energy in the battery they'll heat up perhaps to the point of catching fire. Once that's happened there's no more energy, it's just toxic waste. In my experience the batteries just get hot and smolder.

Thus you have one more option: (1) discharge the battery as much as you can, (2) move into a completely safe space, puncture the battery, let it heat up (or not), and then dispose of it like any other hazardous waste at a Household Hazardous Waste facility. At that point it's not a battery, it's chemicals.


Practically what I do is tape over the terminals of the old battery, and gently deposit in a battery collection facility. They're the experts: it's up to them to determine where each battery goes. Every collection center already has to deal with the potential for fires, and the need for safe transport.

Frankly the advice to use a special $100 bag to dispose of such batteries is bad advice. Almost nobody will ever do it: the battery will either remain on the shelf or get chucked in the general trash, an outcome worse than the problem you set out to solve.