What You Don’t Know About Batteries is SCARY!

Ready for some shocking news?  There are certain types of batteries you should NEVER throw away in the trash OR put in the recycling bin. So – the resounding question of the day is… how do I properly dispose of my batteries? Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful will endeavor to reveal potential solutions while getting you up to speed on the subject of batteries. After all, virtually every human on the planet uses at least one item every day that requires a battery for power – from laptops and smartphones to gaming controllers and cameras. As a matter of fact, each year nearly three billion batteries are sold in the U.S. – that’s an average of about 32 per family or ten per person.

In its simplest terms, a battery is an electrochemical device with the ability to convert chemical energy into electrical energy to power electronic devices. Batteries often fall into one of two categories: primary – which covers one time use batteries and secondary – which covers rechargeable batteries that can be used again and again. Energizer® has a rechargeable battery on the market that can be recharged up to a rather impressive 1,500 times. While the rechargeable battery seems right in line with the environmentalist’s mantra to REUSE, when it does come time to dispose of those batteries, certain somewhat serious precautions should be taken.

Primary single-use batteries are most often the common household alkaline battery. Composed primarily of common metal such as steel, zinc, and manganese, they don’t typically pose a health or environmental risk during normal use or disposal. Most manufacturers have eliminated any added mercury from their alkaline batteries – making it possible to safely dispose of them with regular household waste*.

However, due to the metals found within rechargeable batteries – such as nickel cadmium, nickel metal-hydride, and lithium ion – they often can and should be recycled, but NEVER EVER EVER in your single stream recycling bin. Rechargeable batteries are commonly found in everyday household items like digital cameras, cell phones, laptops, tablets and cordless power tools. Lithium batteries are becoming increasingly prevalent in commonly used AA and AAA sizes due to their long lifespan. If disposed of improperly, there are a number of potential risks involved:

  • When rechargeable batteries are incinerated, certain heavy metals – such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel – might be released into the air as vapor, which can pollute lakes and streams. Those metals can also concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process and contaminate the environment.
  • When disposed of in a landfill, those same heavy metals heavy metals have the potential to leach slowly into soil, groundwater or surface water. Batteries contribute about 88 percent of the total mercury and 50 percent of the cadmium in most municipal solid waste streams.
  • Because batteries often contain strong corrosive acids, they expose the environment and water to that acid as they deteriorate. It can also cause burns to eyes and skin upon contact.
  • We’ve all seen video of cellphones, hover boards and the like bursting into flames. Due to the presence of corrosive chemicals, toxins such as mercury and lead, and charged electrodes, ALL batteries pose a risk of fire, but the biggest risk lies with rechargeable batteries.
  • Lithium-ion batteries that are mistakenly placed in a recycling bin might wind up bouncing around in the back of a recycling truck. Pressure or heat can cause them to spark, setting off a chain reaction that may spell disaster when that ignited battery is surrounded by dry paper and cardboard. The EPA reports that there have been multiple fires at U.S. recycling centers and garbage trucks from improper disposal of lithium batteries.

NOT using batteries isn’t a viable option, so what should you do to properly dispose of your rechargeable batteries…?:

  • Look for the battery recycling seals on rechargeable batteries. To find a rechargeable battery recycling location near you, call 1-800-822-8837 or visit www.call2recycle.org.
  • Visit https://www.gwinnettcb.org/recycling/ for a list of places to take batteries, as well as other items that aren’t accepted in the curbside bin. On our site, batteries are separated into three categories: automobile, household and rechargeable.
  • Some retailers such as IKEA, Ace Hardware, Best Buy, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, AT&T Mobility, Wal-Mart and Staples often collect batteries and electronics with batteries in them for recycling.
  • For battery recycling in the Metro Atlanta area, Georgia Recycling Coalition recommends that large quantities can be recycled at Metal Conversion Technologies in Cartersville, GA (678) 721-0022 or at Davis Recycling in Atlanta (404) 524-1746. Waste Management has begun a new program called Think Green From Home – which allows consumers to ship old disposable batteries to them to recycle for a nominal fee. Visit https://www.thinkgreenfromhome.com to learn more. This service also covers hard-to-dispose of CFL light bulbs.
  • Car batteries containing lead should be brought only to waste-management centers or back to the retailers where purchased, where they can eventually be recycled.
  • Be sure to recycle the packaging batteries come in.

So, there you have it, folks! Knowledge – much like batteries – is POWER! For more environmental tips, be sure to visit the Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful website at www.gwinnettcb.org regularly!

* All states except California