How to dispose of hazardous household materials: Battery Edition!

Aug 17 2011

Batteries can be divided according to the type of material its made from. Many contain harmful metals such as zinc, lead, nickel, mercury, cadmium, and silver that can leak into our air and water supply if tossed into the trash. As is the case with light bulbs we can’t simply throw them in the recycling bin either. So what do we do with them? The answer to this question depends on the type of battery you are trying to get rid of.

1) Alkaline and Carbon-Zinc Batteries

Commonly used for: flash lights, remote controls, smoke detectors, toys, clocks, calculators…etc

Available sizes: AAA, AA,C, D, 6V, and 9V.

Disposal: These batteries are classified as non-hazordous household waste in all states (except California) and are legally allowed to be put in the trash. There is, however, still much debate of how they should be disposed of. Some claim that these batteries contain no harmful material and therefore be placed in the trash and end up in landfills. While others argue that even though the use of mercury in batteries has been banned since 1996 there are still harmful metals that can end up in our air and water. Although, recycling is possible they have not yet found a cost effective way to extract the reusable material. The best advise that we can give with regards of how to dispose of these is to bring them to a local hazardous household waste collection center or a local retailer that will take these.

2) Lithium/Lithium Ion Batteries

Commonly used for: Cameras, Calculators, computer-memory back ups..etc

Available sizes: 3V, 6V and 3V button

Disposal: These batteries can and should be recycled! If incinerated there is a risk that they will explode. Most retailers that sell these batteries also have a recycling program in place.

3) Nickel-Cadmium

Commonly used for: cell phones, power tools, computer packs, toys…etc

Available sizes: AAA, AA, C, D, 6V, 9V

Disposal: These batteries are classified as hazardous waste and by no means should be throw out! They should be brought to either your local household hazardous waste collection site or to a local retailer like radio-shack to be recycled.

4) Button cell batteries

Commonly used for: Watches, hearing-aids, singing greeting cards…etc

Available sizes: Variable

Disposal: Since these batteries contain heavy metals they are classified as hazardous waste and again should not end up in landfills! They can be brought to certain local retailers, watchmakers, jewelers, or the local household hazardous waste collection site to be recycled.

5) Nickel metal hydride Batteries

Commonly used for: electric razors, electric toothbrushes, electric cars and scooters…etc

Available sizes: Variable

Disposal: These should be recycled as well! Through the national program, Call2Recycle, the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) can help you recycle  these batteries. The RBRC can be contacted at 1- 800-8-BATTERY or through their website.

Batteries are an essential power source for many items we use on a daily bases. It would, therefore, be unrealistic to recommend that you avoid using them all together! What you can do, however, is ensure you are using products that are clean and green and that use battery power efficiently. In some cases it may be worth investing in rechargeable batteries (note these do have more hazardous materials!). Furthermore, you should limit your consumption and not buy and use batteries unnecessarily. Most important is that you dispose of these in the safest way possible.

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