Q: I have a ton of old batteries at home, AA, AAA 9V, etc. Is there any way to recycle these? Is it bad for the environment if I just chuck them?
A: Yes to your first question and it depends to your second. If you think about it, batteries are part of just about everything in our daily lives — cellphone, cordless phone, camera, flashlight, iPod, computer, car ... you get the idea — and they're helpful for living life on the go. But many batteries contain harmful metals and chemicals that can leak into our air and water supply when they are dumped into the trash. Since you asked about household batteries, let’s narrow our discussion down to those.
Single-use batteries (like the kind you pick up at the drugstore or the supermarket checkout aisle) are usually alkaline batteries. They do contain some mercury, but the amount has been steadily reduced since 1984. As Americans, we throw away about 180,000 tons of batteries per year. That’s a lot of batteries. But I totally get it, especially now that I have a baby. I can’t believe how difficult it is to find more than a handful of toys that don’t require batteries. I even bought a wind-powered ball machine that I thought would be a nice break from all the noisy toys in our house. Boy was I wrong. Turns out the “wind” is actually a fan and it does indeed require batteries — four of them to be exact — and it plays music so loud it is now the second-most annoying toy in the playroom. (The first being a pretend electronic phone with a voice that sounds like Gilbert Gottfried. But I digress.)
Though they’re not as hazardous as they used to be, single-use batteries should still be recycled and not thrown out, as there are potential hazards that can arise from leaks. Many rechargeable batteries, on the other hand, contain cadmium, which can be particularly hazardous to the environment and to people should it leak in a landfill or go through an incinerator.
Unfortunately, batteries usually don't get picked up in curbside recycling collection, so you have to do a little legwork to find out when and where you can recycle them. For example, where I live, you can drop off single-use alkaline batteries at the household hazardous waste facility’s drop off day, which happens only twice a year. So while I can recycle them, I also need to keep them in my basement in a box until drop-off day comes around — never fun for someone who likes to purge, purge, purge ... garbage, of course.
You have more recycling options when it comes to the more toxic rechargeable batteries, thanks to the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act. Nowadays, you can drop off these batteries at most Staples or RadioShack locations. These and other retailers have partnered with Call2Recycle, a free rechargeable battery and cell phone collection organization (that’s right, you can drop off your old Motorola Razr there, too). Recycled batteries are melted and broken down into their component metals, which are then repurposed into new batteries or steel.
What if you have a load of batteries to get rid of? Sites like BigGreenBox.com and BatteryRecycling.com will ship you their battery recycling boxes (for a fee) to collect all of your batteries, regardless of type, and send you a prepaid shipping label to send them back once your box is full.
For more types of batteries (such as lithium-ion or lead acid or even your car battery) and where you can recycle them, check out the helpful information provided by Earth911.
More from Mother Nature Network: How to recycle batteries