Lithium polymer (LiPo) batteries are a type of rechargeable battery commonly used in radio-controlled (RC) model vehicles like cars, boats, helicopters, and planes. Their high power-to-weight ratio makes them well-suited for providing the energy needed to power motors and servos in RC vehicles. Compared to other battery types, LiPo batteries offer advantages like long run times and high discharge rates. However, they require special care when handling, charging, storing, and disposing.

Why Proper Disposal of LiPo Batteries is Important

1. Fire and Explosion Risk

LiPo batteries contain flammable electrolyte gel and have been known to catch fire or explode if damaged, improperly charged, or exposed to high temperatures. Improper disposal greatly increases the risk of fire or explosion, which could lead to property damage or bodily harm. Discharged and damaged LiPo batteries are especially hazardous.

2. Environmental Impact

The electrolytes and metals in LiPo batteries, like lithium, copper, and cobalt, can contaminate soil and water if released into the environment through landfills or incineration. Toxic gases are also emitted if LiPo batteries are incinerated improperly. Proper recycling or disposal is important to prevent negative environmental impacts.

3. Regulation Requirements

Most regions prohibit the disposal of LiPo batteries in regular trash due to their flammability and toxicity. Special disposal as hazardous electronic waste is typically required to meet local regulations. Failing to follow required disposal procedures could lead to legal penalties.

How to Dispose of RC Car LiPo Batteries?

Identifying When a LiPo Battery Has Reached End of Life

1. Reduced Run Time

As LiPo batteries age through charge/discharge cycles, their maximum run time for RC vehicles gradually decreases. When the battery can only power the RC car or drone for half or less of its original peak run time, it should be retired from service.

2. Swelling or Deformation

One clear visual indicator is if the LiPo battery pack starts to puff up or swell from gas buildup inside the cells. The battery casing may also crack or become distorted. This deformation signals the battery has become unstable and should not be charged or used any further.

3. Low Voltage

Over time, LiPo batteries will begin discharging to lower voltage levels at full charge. Most LiPo battery chargers will warn if a single cell is below 3V at full charge, at which point the battery pack should be disposed of.

Recycling Options for RC Car LiPo Batteries

1. Battery Recycling Programs

Some battery and consumer electronic brands offer free recycling programs that accept lithium-ion and LiPo batteries from RC vehicles. For example, Traxxas, a major RC car brand, partners with Call2Recycle to collect and recycle their LiPo battery packs. Local hobby shops may also collect spent LiPo batteries to send to recycling facilities.

2. Municipal Household Hazardous Waste Collection

Many municipal waste management departments hold periodic collection days to gather household hazardous waste, including LiPo batteries, for proper recycling and disposal. Contact your local waste authority to ask about upcoming collection events in your area. Some local recycling centers may also have drop-off bins specifically for lithium-ion batteries.

3. Mail-In Recycling Kits

For convenience, prepaid mailers with recycling kits can be purchased online to safely package up spent LiPo batteries for shipment to recycling facilities. The kits include protective pouches, tape, and labels to properly contain and identify the batteries being returned via mail.

How to Dispose of RC Car LiPo Batteries

Safe Handling and Disposal Methods for LiPo Batteries

1. Discharging the Battery

Before disposal, LiPo batteries should first be fully discharged to drain any remaining energy and reduce fire risk. This can be done with the RC remote by running the vehicle until the battery dies. Alternatively, use a LiPo discharging device designed to safely discharge batteries.

2. Taping Battery Terminals

Next, tape over the positive and negative terminals with insulating electrical tape to prevent any energy flow or short circuiting of the battery. Avoid exposing the terminals which could allow a charge to build up.

3. Sealing in Individual Pouches

Each battery should be sealed in its own plastic pouch or zip locking bag to isolate it from other batteries it is packaged with. This prevents damage between batteries rubbing together during transport. The sealed pouches also contain any possible leaking electrolytes.

Alternative Disposal Methods

1. Commercial Recycling Services

Companies like Greener Recycling provide prepaid boxes to safely mail in LiPo batteries of any chemistry for recycling. They also offer business recycling services to handle large volumes of batteries.

2. LiPo Battery Disposal Through Retailers

Where available, retailers that sell RC LiPo batteries may also accept them back for professional disposal. However, call ahead to see if they offer this service. Never put LiPo batteries in store battery collection bins unless expressly permitted.

3. Professional Disposal Companies

Firms specializing in hazardous waste disposal can also properly collect and destroy LiPo batteries. This option incurs a larger service fee but is available for those looking for complete offsite battery disposal.

How to Dispose of RC Car LiPo Batteries?

Frequently Asked Questions on Disposing of RC car LiPo batteries

Q: Why can’t I just throw old RC LiPo batteries in the regular trash?

A: LiPo batteries contain flammable electrolytes and metals that can leach out and contaminate landfills. Throwing them in the trash violates regulations for safe disposal of hazardous electronic waste and risks fire or environmental harm. Proper recycling or hazardous waste disposal is required.

Q: Is it safe to cut open, puncture, or damage a LiPo battery before disposing of it?

A: No, physically damaging a LiPo in any way before disposal is extremely dangerous and can cause fire or explosion. The battery contains reactive chemicals under pressure. Puncturing the cells allows oxygen contact and shorts the cathode and anode to initiate thermal runaway.

Q: How do I fully discharge a LiPo battery to make it safe for disposal?

A: Connect the LiPo to your RC car or a specialty discharging device and allow it to fully run down until no power remains to safely dissipate all remaining energy. The voltage for a fully discharged 3-cell LiPo battery is around 3V to 6V total, or 1V to 2V per cell.

Q: Can I dispose of a puffy or swollen LiPo battery that still works?

A: No, if the LiPo battery pack shows signs of swelling, cracking, or a ballooned casing, it is unsafe for continued use. The internal pressure buildup indicates unstable electrolyte reactions. Swollen batteries should be immediately discharged fully and disposed of properly.

Q: What precautions should I take when handling spent LiPo batteries?

A: Always wear protective gloves and eyewear in case of leaks. Avoid short circuiting the terminals. Place electrical tape over the terminals after discharging. Package the LiPo in a sealed sturdy plastic bag or hazardous waste container. Never disassemble or damage the battery.

Q: Where can I find LiPo battery recycling near me?

A: Check for battery or e-waste collection events with your city’s waste management department. Some hobby shops and electronics or battery retailers also accept LiPo batteries for recycling. Alternatively, use a mail-back program or drop-off site specifically for lithium-ion battery recycling.

Q: Is there a fee to properly recycle my old RC LiPo batteries?

A: Programs through retailers, municipalities, and manufacturers are often free. Independent commercial recycling services will charge a fee depending on volume. Disposal through a hazardous waste facility also incurs fees but may be necessary if no recycling options are accessible for you.

Final Thoughts

Properly disposing of lithium polymer batteries from RC vehicles is important to avoid potential fire hazards and environmental contamination. By identifying when LiPo batteries reach end-of-life, discharging and insulating the terminals, sealing them individually, and utilizing available recycling programs or professional disposal services, RC hobbyists can ensure safe handling and recycling of these batteries. With proper care taken during disposal, LiPo batteries need not pose significant risks when their useful lifespan in our RC cars, drones, and trucks eventually ends.

Enjoyed this guide of How to Dispose of RC Car LiPo Batteries? Then be sure to check out our other RC Rating guides.