At Whole Foods stores in the U.S. Northwest, a different kind of vending machine is appearing—one that accepts and dispenses rechargeable alkaline batteries.
Consumers make an initial purchase of high-quality AA or AAA reusables at the “Bettery” boxes. When the batteries get used up, shoppers simply return them to the machine during a grocery trip, and get a fresh pair for free. The initial cost is recouped in just three “swaps,” and you never have to buy or throw away another battery again—pretty brilliant.
For those of us without Bettery vending machines, the number one way to properly dispose of batteries is still ordinary recycling, using whatever community resources are available.
Whether you’ve got rechargeable or disposable batteries, big industrial casings or tiny watch batteries, it’s essential to recycle each sapped electrochemical cell when it’s no longer useful. But why is it important to dispose of batteries the right way?
Why Does Battery Recycling Matter?
Many materials can be profitably recycled back into production, from aluminum and paper to building materials and electronics. In the case of batteries, however, the stakes are higher than with your typical stack of newspapers. That’s because of what batteries contain: some of the worst toxic chemicals and heavy metals around.
A car battery, for instance, is 70 percent reusable lead—a dire toxin to the environment, but a valuable commodity when recycled. Lead acid batteries and nickel-cadmium household rechargeable are among the worst hazards, which is why it’s dangerous to store old car batteries anywhere near where children play.
Dangerous substances like cadmium, lead acid, and mercury, temporarily encased in items like car batteries and ordinary household cells, eventually leak out wherever they lie. If that’s in a landfill or incinerator, the chances are good that cancer-causing materials will find their way into a water supply or soil layer near you, posing big risks to human health and the environment.
When you recycle your alkalines, lithiums, lead acid, and other batteries, your contribution does a service to the environment. You help keep heavy metals out of the oceans and away from vulnerable marine animals, already stressed by overflows of cadmium and lead, among and other civil residues.
Whales, dolphins, sea lions, and other mammals are facing dramatic rises in degenerative or fatal illnesses. Meanwhile, lead in the oceans has been linked to human blood cancers and nervous dysfunctions. The health risks of lead are greatest for children.
Lithium batteries, like the ones found in smartphones, pose a special environmental hazard when they are trashed with some carcinogenic fuel remaining. Buried in deep piles of waste, exposed metallic lithium reacts with moisture to start virtually inexhaustible landfill fires. These can burn hotly underground, sometimes for years on end, creating great carbon bubbles that further aggravate global warming.
Local Recycling Suggestions
All used batteries are hazardous waste; it’s never a good idea to just throw them out. Instead take a moment to identify the best procedure for disposing of your batteries locally and securely.
Many areas have one or more designated household hazardous waste facilities for this purpose. There may also be curbside pick-up or a secure waste landfill outfitted to deal with hazardous materials in your municipality. Contact your local City Hall for updated information.
You may have seen a drop-off bin at your local firehouse, grocery store, or neighborhood recycling center. If not, consider making a special request. It doesn’t have to be a “Bettery” to have a positive influence on the environment.
This article was written by Leonardo Chavez, an avid blogger who loves writing about the environment and how to make the world a better place for everyone. He writes this article on behalf of Batteryplex and their RBC2, the most reliable choice for UPS systems. Make sure to check out their website to see what else they have to offer!