What to do with dead batteries (guest post) - Our Daily Green

Friday, June 5, 2015

What to do with dead batteries (guest post)

Some rights reserved by JohnSeb
I used to think it was illegal to put batteries in regular trash, but that is exactly what New York instructs its residents to do. Except in California, D-cell and smaller alkaline batteries are not considered hazardous waste for trash disposal purposes. (The Environmental Protection Agency includes batteries in its list of hazardous household waste.)

 All batteries combine two metals and an electrolyte. Alkaline batteries use zinc, manganese, and for the electrolyte, either potassium hydroxide or  sodium hydroxide.

These electrolytes leak out of damaged batteries. They are corrosive,  reactive, and unstable when exposed to water. They cause severe burns if they come in contact with skin or eyes. They are definitely considered hazardous in large quantities, but legally at least, the amount of either metals or electrolytes in batteries is considered to pose no environmental or health risks.

photo from: Mathieu BOIS  via Wikimedia Commons
Just because something is legal does not make it right. No responsible chemistry teacher would ever allow students to conduct the crazy experiment that takes place in modern landfills. Chemicals that ought to be kept separate mingle there.

The water that percolates through the landfill soaks every battery discarded there, where the electrolytes combine with bleach, ammonia, and countless other chemicals that necessitate elaborate and expensive leachate collection systems. Rechargeable batteries, which contain mercury, and lithium batteries make their own additional contributions to this toxic broth.

Legal recognition of hazardous household wastes has come only fairly recently. These include paints, cleaners, oils, pesticides, and electronic wastes. It is illegal to put any recognized hazardous household waste in the trash.

Consider dead batteries hazardous household wastes even if they do not meet the legal definition in your jurisdiction. And don't forget rechargeable appliances with non-removeable batteries. What to do with hazardous substances depends on where you live.

Some communities, and I hope all medium-sized to large cities and suburban areas, have hazardous household waste drop off centers that are open year-round. Other communities designate certain days when residents can drop their hazardous wastes. A few communities might not offer any collection of hazardous household wastes at all.

If your community does not have a drop off center, or if you don't know where yours is, visit Earth911.com or phone them at 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687).  You can also purchase a mailing box from The Big Green Box™ and mail your batteries to them. The price of the box includes all postage, handling, and disposal fees.

Thank you for today's post from writer David Guion who publishes the blog Sustaining Our World and has written multiple e-books on sustainability.

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