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Why recycle batteries?

Nickel-cadmium batteries
Our modern world is dependent upon batteries, but what are we supposed to do with them after they run out of juice? (Photo by scalespeeder, used with a Creative Commons license).

Why is there a problem?

Both rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries contain chemicals dangerous to life. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), every year more than 350 million rechargeable batteries are purchased in the United States. As portable and hand held devices become more and more popular, the number of rechargeable batteries in existence has also continued to increase, and so will the toxic waste in our environment; the same is true of alkaline batteries.
The Mercury-Containing Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996 (“Battery Act”) played a large and impactful role in protecting the people’s health and the environment from hazardous substances. The Act was enforced to reduce and ultimately outlaw the number of mercury batteries in circulation and facilitate the collection and recycling of rechargeable batteries, like nickel cadmium and small sealed lead-acid batteries, so that hazardous waste and toxic metals are not released into the environment and poisoning water systems.
Battery recycling sign
It is important that we recycle batteries whenever possible to protect our environment from toxins. (Via smartsign.com).

How are we affected?

Cadmium and lead in nickel-cadmium or small sealed lead acid batteries are heavy toxic metals and are harmful. While in use these toxic metals prove no threat to the environment or to people’s health, but if wrongly disposed, these batteries can cause serious harm to human well-being and to our surroundings.
Through landfill disposal or incineration, these toxins and heavy metals are introduced into the environment and can make their way into the food chain. This poses a huge problem in terms of the possible health effects associated with ingesting or inhaling carcinogens through air, food, and water. Medical consequences can include abdominal discomfort, headaches and in cases of exceptionally high exposure, cancer.
The sulfuric acid found in lead-acid batteries is also unsafe. The acid is highly corrosive, and potentially more harmful than most acids used in other battery systems. If the acid contacts the eyes, it can cause permanent blindness, and can damage your internal organs, leading to death.
Servicing lead-acid batteries has also proven to be a life-threatening safety hazard. If over-charged, the batteries produce hydrogen-sulfide, a flammable substance. If handling lead-acid batteries, it’s important to stay in a well-ventilated area away from sparks or open flames.
Battery charging station sign
Sulfuric acid in lead-acid batteries is flammable and can be very harmful. Be cautious of open flames or smoking around a charging station. (Via smartsign.com).

How does the recycling program work?

Recycling programs for household and rechargeable batteries can reduce the dangers these batteries pose to the environment and to human health. Instead of finding their way to landfills and incinerators, by taking batteries to recycling facilities the heavy metals are recovered during the recycling procedure and the rest of the product is discarded safely or recycled.
Non-profit initiatives like Call2Recycle and Earth911 collect and recycle millions of batteries and cell phones a year. These organizations do so for free to ensure that hazardous batteries are diverted from entering the waste stream in order to protect our health and environment. Along with receiving pre-paid shipping kits, there are even options to find your nearest collection and recycling location. Recycling batteries has never been so easy.

Methods of Disposal and Recycling Batteries:

The tables below display a breakdown of primary (those that cannot be reused) and secondary batteries (those that can be reused), where they are commonly found, and the best ways to recycle or dispose of them safely.
Battery Type Main Uses Waste classification How and Where to Recycle
Alkaline Alarm clocks, flashlights, calculators, remote controls, smoke alarms. Classified as non-hazardous waste by federal government. Can and should be recycled; regulations typically looser than they are with other types, though California is an exception.
Lithium/Lithium ion Cameras, calculators, computers, tablets and e-readers. Classified as non-hazardous waste by federal government. Can and should be recycled. Find your nearest drop-off center. To prevent risk of fire, tape the terminals or individually bag each battery.
Carbon zinc Flashlights, toys, clocks, garage door openers. Classified as non-hazardous waste by federal government. Safe for disposal in trash. (California exceptions).
Battery Type Main Uses Waste classification How and Where to Recycle
Nickel-cadmium Cordless power tools, cordless phones, hand held vacuums, digital cameras and video cameras Hazardous and toxic waste. Can be recycled. Find your nearest drop-off center
Small sealed lead-acid Mobility scooters, emergency exit signs, lawn mowers, Hazardous and toxic waste. Can be recycled. Find your nearest drop-off center.
Nickel metal hydride Cellphones, cordless power tools, digital cameras, two-way radios Classified as non-hazardous waste by federal government. Safe for disposal in trash but can be accepted at drop-off centers. (California exceptions).
Lead-acid automobile Cars, motorcycles, trucks. Hazardous and toxic waste. Take back to place of purchase.

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