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Why is it illegal to throw car batteries in the ocean?
A standard car battery is called a lead acid battery and contains at least a few pounds of heavy metals like lead and potentially a gallon of sulfuric acid that has been contaminated by exposure to the lead within the battery. There is a solid reason why this combination of metal and acidic liquid is contained within a very strong outer shell, that is required to be covered with many warning labels about the environment and human safety: it’s not good for you.
Fish and other aquatic life should not be exposed to the chemicals found within batteries. Also consider that some of our drinking water is desalinated from the ocean, making it more difficult to filter out contaminants like acid and heavy metals like lead and cadmium.
The effects of car batteries on your health
Lead poisoning is fairly serious in itself, as the heavy metal can leach into your brain and cause learning and behavioral problems, all while being impossible to remove. Children are tested early on for lead poisoning because it has the potential to result in learning problems as it impairs the ability to remember things or function.
The sulfur contained in batteries is terrible for the environment too and can readily cause physical burns as well as a rise in the acidic balance of water, which can make water uninhabitable for fish.
A Google controversy
Sometime before 2018, a not very serious answer from the popular but not overly reputable question-and-answer site Quora crept into the top search results as an instant answer to the same question we are asking about the safety of car batteries in the ocean. The user wrote that not only is it legal to throw car batteries in the ocean, but the batteries had the potential to help out the water.
There was a small amount of detail provided by some users, indicating that the old battery would help charge electric eels and power the gulf stream. This is obviously untrue and electric eels would be harmed by the presence of car batteries, but unfortunately for the site and Google, the sarcasm within the answer went undetected.
This goes to show that Google can accidentally be wrong about serious subjects like throwing car batteries into the ocean.
What are the penalties for throwing a car battery in the ocean?
There are a variety of potential penalties if you are caught throwing a car battery in the ocean. Locally, you could face penalties ranging from a fine or community service - up to and including violation of the Ocean Dumping Act with fines of $250,000 and up to a few years in prison.
Seems odd to risk the legal issues involved, as we’ll explain how easy is it to recycle your battery in a much safer way net.
How should I recycle a car battery?
Old car batteries are fairly easy to recycle - and we emphasize the word recycle because there are reusable metals within a car battery that shouldn’t end up in the trash.
Vehicle owners typically either replace their batteries in their garage or at a service center. In addition, a wrecked or otherwise broken vehicle might find itself at a junkyard, where the vehicle owner no longer controls what happens to the battery.
Disposing of a battery when replacing it yourself
You should contact your local recycling center or a car service center nearby when disposing of used car batteries. Some car service centers recycle your batteries - though there can be a fee involved. There are enough car service centers around most cities to make the small fee worth the short trip. A recycling center might not be that local as there is typically one in every county, but they generally take the car battery for free. They might even take a number of things you would otherwise throw away like old CRT TVs.
What to avoid when removing your car battery
First, we suggest that you don’t leave your car battery outside on the ground. The acid and lead from the battery can gradually leak harmful chemicals into the soil and contaminate local groundwater. In addition, a dog or other animal can come by and get curious and accidentally poison themselves. While we don’t exactly endorse the idea of leaving your car battery in the corner of your garage for a long time, it isn’t the worst place to put a car battery while you wait to have time to bring it to the recycling center.
You should also avoid throwing car batteries into regular trash or recycling. This is in part because they are heavy, and also because they aren’t meant to be mixed with regular trash or recycling. Most recycling bins make a strong emphasis on pointing out what should be contained within, and its often limited to glass bottles, paper, cardboard, and other materials besides old car batteries.
Do people throw car batteries in the ocean?
While this doesn’t sound like a serious question, we imagine that there is a law against throwing car batteries in the ocean for a reason. While the ocean literally wouldn’t be the easiest place to throw your car battery, unless you happened to live near it, some people do throw car batteries into bodies of water to avoid paying fees to dispose of them or because the body of water is more convenient. It’s also possible that someone could throw a car battery into a lake to attempt to cause the very problems we discussed, or because they don’t know any better.
Is the car battery in a dead car harmful?
We would that a dead battery or otherwise dead car that is sitting in your garage or driveway is at least better than other places the battery could be. On the other hand, the metals and acids within can be recycled and reused - we also don’t necessarily suggest the idea of removing and recycling a battery that might still work.
If you get back around to trying to get the car to run, make your decision at that point. You’ll make more of an environmental impact by choosing to keep your existing battery and letting it run its course instead of replacing it when it still works.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding