With all of the battery operated toys, cameras, appliances, electronic devices and gadgets that find their way under the Christmas tree, by the new year, there could be a mounting pile of dead batteries around the house and the dilemma of how to dispose of them responsibly. But before we get to that, let’s start with some basic information about how to choose which kind of battery has the most and least impact on the environment. In the choice between rechargeable and long-life batteries, there are some factors to consider. What item is the battery to be used in? How often do the batteries need to be changed or recharged? How difficult is it to access the item?
Rechargeable Batteries. The more frequently rechargeable batteries need to be recharged, the lower the negative impact on the environment, according to a comparison of single-use alkaline batteries to rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride type batteries. This comparison was published in The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment. Rechargeable batteries are best used for high-consumption devices such as cameras, flashlights, and electronic toys, which require frequent recharging. It’s important to note that if they are charged less than 20 times, rechargeable batteries do not reduce pollution problems such as ocean acidification, human toxicity and particulate matter more than single-use batteries. They may actually contribute more to ozone depletion unless they’re recharged as often as 150 times.
Single-use Batteries. One of the biggest problems with single-use, alkaline batteries is the problem of disposing of them when they kick the bucket. One of the benefits is that they last longer so they are preferable to their rechargeable relatives for use in items such as smoke alarms. When the incessant chirping of your dying smoke alarm wakes you in the middle of the night, it’s hardly a convenient time to replace your battery with a rechargeable. Other applications where single-use batteries are better suited include low-draw devices like wall clocks, radios, programmable thermostats and remote controls.
What about disposal? Before you know it, you can have a pretty significant collection of dead batteries that need to be disposed of in a responsible way. In fact, around 5 billion single-use batteries are sold in the U.S. every year, and less than 10 percent are recycled. Finding a place where you can recycle batteries can be a real pain, but there are a couple of reliable websites where you can find recycling centers near you that will take your spent batteries. For single-use batteries, visit www.earth911.com. Don’t forget that rechargeable batteries will eventually bite the dust and require proper disposal as well (although the average rechargeables can hang in there for from 500 – 800 charge cycles). To find out where you can recycle rechargeable batteries in your area, visit www.Call2Recycle. Many of these locations also recycle cellphone batteries.
A Teaching Moment When you’re loading fresh batteries into your child’s favorite new toy or device this holiday, take the opportunity to tell them how important it is to responsibly recycle our batteries, rather than tossing them in the trash. Start a battery collection box where the whole family can deposit used-up batteries. When the box is full, take the kids with you to the recycling center to drop off the batteries. It’s a great way for your kids to learn that we each can make a difference in protecting our earth from man-made pollutants when we act responsibly.