Single Use Batteries 101
On average, each person in the U.S discards eight dry-cell batteries per year. Additionally, most batteries are made up of heavy metals. Some of these toxic heavy metals in batteries include nickel, mercury and lead, which can threaten our environment if not properly discarded.
Because of the materials of which they are made, these batteries may or may not be considered hazardous waste in your state. Therefore, you should always check with your local government health, solid waste or recycling department before you consider their disposal. Most importantly, there are recycling programs in place for all of these materials, so batteries should be recycled whenever possible and never thrown in the trash.
Improperly disposed batteries may produce the following potential problems or hazards:
- Pollute lakes and streams as the metals vaporize into the air when burned
- Contribute to heavy metals that potentially may leach from solid waste landfills
- Expose the environment and water to lead and acid
- Contain strong corrosive acids
- Cause burns or danger to eyes and skin
Vital stats from the U.S. EPA about batteries:
- Americans purchase nearly three billion dry-cell batteries every year to power radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers and portable power tools.
- Nearly 99 million wet-cell, lead-acid car batteries are manufactured each year.
- A typical lead-acid battery contains 60 to 80 percent recycled lead and plastic
Tips on Recycling Single Use Batteries
In 1996, the Battery Act was signed into law to address two fundamental issues according to the U.S. EPA: to phase out the use of mercury in rechargeable batteries and to provide collection methods and recycling/proper disposal of batteries. Batteries that end up in landfills and incinerators eventually end up in our environment and/or the food chain, causing serious health risks to humans and animals.
Not all created equal
All batteries can be categorized as either primary (single-use) batteries or secondary (rechargeable) batteries. Each type requires specific instructions to ensure it is properly discarded or recycled. The batteries consumers are more likely to use are for household uses, such as:
- Nickel-cadmium (NiCd)
- Nickel metal hydride (NiMH)
- Button cell (lithium manganese)
- Lead-based (automotive and non-automotive)
What's In & What's Out
Each year, Americans throw out almost 180,000 tons of batteries. About 14,000 of those tons are rechargeable batteries; the rest are single-use. If we start replacing single-use batteries with rechargeables, we are not only saving money, but ensuring that less batteries end up in landfills as well.
Once rechargeable batteries reach the end of their usable life, recycling is a great option. Rechargeable batteries can be recycled at no cost to the consumer, ensuring the proper disposal of toxic chemicals often used in these batteries.
In many cities, there are retailers that will recycle most types of batteries; and if the battery is not recyclable, they will get rid of it safely.
Carbon-Zinc & Zinc Chloride Batteries
- Carbon-Zinc Batteries
Carbon zincs have been almost entirely replaced by alkaline batteries. They do not perform well in extreme temperatures; excessive heat drives out the moisture from the chemical mix in the cell and drastically low temperatures decrease the life of the battery.
These batteries are most commonly used in flashlights and products with intermittent use. They are inexpensive and therefore a popular choice among manufacturers that sell products with batteries included.
- Zinc Chloride Batteries
These batteries are slowly being replaced by alkaline batteries, as well. They do not have long lives or perform well in high temperatures. However, they are less likely to leak and perform better at low temperatures than carbon-zinc batteries. Products that can use these batteries include motor driven toys and calculators. The zinc from these batteries can be reprocessed, so look into your local recycling options.
Alkaline batteries are a smart choice for consumers because they last for a long period of time, perform well at high and low temperatures and have a long storage life. Alkaline batteries can be stored at room temperature for two years and retain 90 percent of their original capacities.
According to the U.S. EPA, potassium hydroxide, a strong alkali (a base), is contained within the cells of alkaline batteries. The potassium hydroxide can leak out of the battery cell if they are damaged or mishandled, causing severe chemical burns if the substance comes into contact with your skin or eyes.
- Standard Alkaline - typically used in low to moderate-drain devices like scanners and remote controls
- Premium Alkaline - typically used in high drain devices such as digital cameras and CD players
Mercury use in batteries has been reduced drastically. Newer alkaline batteries contain about one-tenth the amount of mercury previously contained in the typical alkaline battery. Some alkaline batteries have zero-added mercury, and several mercury-free, heavy-duty, carbon-zinc (or zinc-carbon) batteries are on the market.
Because of mercury reduction, some landfill bans of alkaline batteries and recycling programs taking them have ceased. When disposing of household alkaline batteries, it is best to check with your local recycling or Household Hazardous Waste coordinators concerning the specifics of what is and is not accepted.
Tips on Recycling Rechargeable Batteries
In 1996, the Battery Act was signed into law to address two fundamental issues, according to the U.S. EPA:
- To phase out the use of mercury in rechargeable batteries
- To provide collection methods and recycling/proper disposal of batteries.
Batteries that end up in landfills and incinerators eventually end up in our environment, causing serious health risks to humans and animals.
Each battery has a different chemical makeup, and therefore, there are different ways of properly disposing of them. The batteries most often used by consumers are used in the household, such as nickel-cadmium (NiCd), nickel metal hydride (NiMH), button cell (lithium manganese), automotive and non-automotive lead-based batteries.
All batteries can be categorized as either primary (single-use) batteries or secondary (rechargeable) batteries. Each year, Americans throw out almost 180,000 tons of batteries. About 14,000 of those tons are rechargeable batteries; the rest are single-use.
Fortunately, many rechargeable batteries can be used to power the same products in which we typically use single-use batteries. Rechargeable batteries can also be recycled at no cost to the consumer. If we start replacing those one-use batteries with rechargeables, we are not only saving money, but ensuring that less batteries end up in the landfills as well.