Canada's Condominium Magazine

Be kind to old batteries: don't trash them, recycle, for National Battery Day

A simple step we can all take to help protect the environment is to avoid throwing away our dead batteries. Instead, Call2Recycle urges us to drop them off at recycling centres and thus keep potentially hazardous materials such as mercury and lead out of landfill where they could harm the environment. There are also valuable materials in batteries, metals like copper, aluminum and iron, that can be reused. February 18 is National Battery Day in Canada and the US, and the battery stewardship group wants people to know that recycling is easy, convenient, and important, not just on National Battery Day but every day. With the convenience that batteries bring us in our daily lives comes responsibility, the group says.

The importance of recycling becomes clear when you consider the staggering number of batteries we use. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away more than three billion of them every year, weighing 180,000 tons. This in spite of the fact that it is illegal to throw batteries of any kind in the trash in California. The number of batteries used and discarded by Canadians would be proportionate.

Last year, reports Call2Recycle, North Americans responded to the call to recycle in record numbers: 6.3 million kilograms (14 million pounds) of used batteries and cellphones were collected. Impressive as that sounds, it’s a drop in the bucket, just 3.8 per cent of the total batteries that are thrown away.

Unfortunately , only four in ten North Americans say they recycle their batteries, a Nielsen survey found, the main reason being that they don’t know how or where to do so. This is why Call2Recycle wants people to know that there are more than 30,000 locations where they can drop of their batteries any day of the year. They include retailers like Best Buy, London Drugs, Staples, Lowe’s, The Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Rona, and more. The group says that 88 per cent of us live within fifteen kilometres of a Call2Recycle drop-off location. A recycling depot locator is available on the website. Call2Recycle collects rechargeable batteries, single-use batteries and cellphones.

Batteries afford us many every day conveniences and are essential in powering our daily lives, and this freedom to go unplugged comes with a responsibility. Eighty-eight percent of North Americans live within ten miles (fifteen kilometers) of a Call2Recycle drop-off location, a convenient and effective way for people to get involved in recycling not just on National Battery Day, but all year long.

What happens to the materials recovered from batteries? The most common household battery is the alkaline type, the standard AA and AAA batteries we use in computer keyboards, TV remotes, toys and many other things. They contain a lot of iron and manganese which can be recycled and used in making steel, for example, or in making new batteries.

Those lithium-ion batteries that power our cellphones also contain large quantities of iron and manganese as well as copper, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, zinc, potassium and rare earth metals. Cellphones can be refurbished and reused, or recycled for their contents. To get the metals out of the lithium-ion battery, they must be baked in an oven at 700 degrees Celsius to separate the plastics and organic compounds from the metals, then treated with several different types of acid to leach the useful metals out. Both types of battery, alkaline and lithium-ion, are 100 per cent recyclable.

Since most used batteries still end up in landfill, the potential for harm to the environment is high. As the battery casings corrodes and breaks down, the chemicals and metals inside leach into the soil and into the water supply, eventually reaching the ocean. Lithium itself can actually cause landfill fires that burn underground and release more toxins into the atmosphere.

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