One night when you’re sitting on your couch, flipping through the TV stations and trying to find something that isn’t a rerun of Desperate Housewives, your remote stops working. You press the buttons, trying to get off of that stupid weight loss show, but nothing happens until you realize that the batteries are dead, and go to change them for shiny new ones. Then the old ones go into the trash.
This repeats hundreds of times, through hundreds of houses. We all own devices that use batteries, like remotes, smoke detectors, flashlights, and all number of common household items. It’s ordinary to use them, and then throw those batteries away when you’re done with them. Then they end up in a landfill, with thousands upon thousands of other batteries.
Unless, of course, those single use batteries are recycled and reused.
It’s certainly not illegal to throw away your single use batteries, unless you live in California where a state law to recycle all batteries is in effect. In other states, it was advised they be recycled before 1997 when batteries contained high amounts of mercury, but the mercury has since been reduced by a Federal mandate.
So why should you recycle your batteries if they can be thrown away? The answer is simple: because batteries still contain traces of mercury as well as other chemicals and heavy metals, such as manganese, zinc and iron.
As they break down, those chemicals and heavy metals seep from the landfill, contaminating the soil and getting into ground water. This causes potential health hazards for people living near landfills, and many people nowhere near landfills. Chemicals can be taken up into the ecosystem through groundwater seepage and eventually end up in a fish that finds its way onto your plate.
But what about rechargeable batteries? Shouldn’t they reduce this sort of waste?
Rechargeable batteries are a partial solution to this problem. They last longer through recharging, and cut down on the amount of single use alkaloid batteries. Batteries such as lithium-ion phone batteries, computer batteries, and Duracell rechargeable batteries fall under this category.
But rechargeable batteries are often more toxic than single use if thrown away. They contain more mercury and heavy metals than single use, as well as lead that can also leach into the environment.
There are also other types of batteries that can cause different hazards, such as car batteries and motorcycle batteries. These can contain various kinds of chemicals, such as lead-acid. 9-volt batteries are particularly dangerous if their contacts rub against metal. They will heat up and eventually explode, with many cases being documented of 9-volts exploding in people’s pockets from loose change.
But recycling batteries isn’t always easy. Many places will only take rechargeable batteries, as throwing away rechargeable batteries is illegal by federal law as they qualify as e-waste. They don’t see single use batteries as something that needs to be recycled.
It’s not impossible, though. There are places that have stations to recycle both, such as all Wegmans’ supermarkets. They can also be mailed in to certain companies like Battery Solutions and Battery Plus that will take both your single use and rechargeable batteries for free or a nominal fee.
So before you throw away that battery, think about what it could do to the environment and possibly your own family. It may be worth it to put it aside and recycle it.