Most of us rely on rechargeable batteries daily and for multiple devices. In fact, Call2Recycle, the nation’s leader in consumer battery recycling, estimates that consumers use an average of six wireless devices in their day-to-day lives.
So what happens to all of those batteries when they have given their all and need to be replaced?
Depending on their owner’s eco-awareness level, batteries either get recycled, or they get thrown in the trash. However, the end of life impact of a rechargeable battery is drastically different based on that decision.
Due to their heavy metal content, the Environmental Protection Agency has categorized batteries as Household Hazardous Waste. This means they are safe to serve their purpose in our homes, but can become hazardous if disposed of improperly.
Follow the two post-consumer paths of a used rechargeable battery and learn why a little extra effort can make a big difference.
Recycled: Curbside pick-up programs are not equipped to collect rechargeable batteries. Therefore, the responsibility lies with the consumer to make sure their batteries get recycled. Call2Recycle offers the only free battery collection program in the United States. They have over 30,000 recycling drop-off locations across the country found at public agencies, retailers, businesses and municipalities.
Trash: Batteries that don’t get recycled by consumers get thrown away. By throwing a rechargeable battery in the trash can, it will be collected by your city’s waste management services and enter the waste stream as garbage.
Recycled: Once collected, rechargeable batteries are sorted by what kinds of heavy metals they contain – also known as chemistry type. Electronics such as cell phones and computers typically use lithium-ion batteries, which have different components than the kind of rechargeable batteries used to power toys and flashlights. Their components will determine which kind of recycling facility they end up at.
Trash: Once the rechargeable battery goes from your trash can to your public garbage service, odds are it will not be disposed of safely. According to the EPA, about 73 percent of municipal waste gets either incinerated or landfilled. While these might serve as resources for disposing of regular garbage, unfortunately, neither is a safe option for household hazardous waste such as rechargeable batteries.
Recycled: Once a recycled battery has been sorted by its chemistry, it gets shipped to the appropriate facility where it will be processed and transformed. This ensures not only that the batteries are not entering the waste stream, but that valuable resources get reused. Call2Recycle has diverted over 70 million pounds of rechargeable batteries from the solid waste stream since 1996 and over 2 million pounds this year, already.
Through processing, the heavy metals are removed and the battery components are recycled separately. In some cases, the recycled materials are able to close the loop in the recycling system by being used to create new batteries. In other cases, the heavy metals can be re-purposed for steel production in cars or for stainless steel items such as golf clubs, kitchen appliances and even silverware.
Trash: When a rechargeable battery ends up in a landfill, over time its heavy metal content will seep into and contaminate nearby groundwater, soil and surface water. Incinerated batteries are also contaminates. The ash released from smokestacks can contain heavy metal concentrates from the batteries.
When the heavy metals are introduced into the environment via air and water, they can easily find their way to the food chain. Heavy metals are toxic to animals or humans when they are ingested or inhaled and usually result in severe health problems.
Recycling batteries might take a little extra effort, but programs like Call2Recycle have made it painless and cost-free to make sure you are part of the battery recycling solution.
Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Call2Recycle is one of these partners.