Recycling Batteries

I was speechless. After all that I have heard about the importance of recycling batteries, and all of the effort I go to so I can recycle them, I was dumbfounded when an employee at Boulder's Hazardous Materials facility, operated by Waste Management, told me the batteries I was bringing in did not need to be recycled and he would throw them away.

What?!? He tries to explain to me that regular batteries uses around the home, also called dry-cell batteries, did not need to be recycled, and that the trash was a sufficient way of disposing of them. He added that rechargeable batteries should be recycled though.

Batteries are referred to by their size (AA being a common example) or by the products they are used in (flashlight battery or car battery). They sometimes are referred to by the metals used to make them (nickel metal hydride or lithium). I was trying to recycle AA batteries.

Dry-cell batteries (aka alkaline and single use) are the standard household batteries. The most common ones we use include AAA, AA, C, D, 9-volt (although some rechargeable batteries are also dry-cell). We use them in remote controls, flashlights, wireless computer mice and keyboards, laser pointers, musical toys, radios, and smoke detectors. They seem to be omnipresent. They contain heavy metals, but less mercury than in years past. I was confused about the perception of them not being considered hazardous waste and being recycled.

So I went to the Waste Management website; several of them actually. Indeed rechargeable batteries are in the hazardous waste stream. But so are standard batteries, I think. In fact, Waste Management offers a battery kit to make it easier for people to recycle their batteries. But, it's the reduced amount of mercury that has dropped them down the list of recyclable items, or taken them off the recycling list.

So while the Waste Management website discusses recycling batteries, at least one of their employees is misguided, and undoing some of the handwork they and their customers are chasing to do. Or is their website confusing?

Maybe the employee was saying that my dry-cell batteries were not hazardousous waste, but to tell me they would not have to be recycled and he would throw them away for me is outlandish! Or so I thought – before starting this article.

Where can you recycle regular, household dry-cell batteries? It seems you can not actually recycle regular household batteries – unless you live in California, where it's mandated. According to several websites I read there are no known recycling facilities in the US that can practically and cost-effectively reclaim all types of household
batteries. From what I can tell even the batteries grouped in recycling programs are extremely disposed of in landfills.

Most battery collection programs really target button cell batteries (like those used in watches, calculators, wristwatches, alarm clocks, and hearing aids) and nickel-cadmium batteries. They end up collecting all household batteries because so many people struggle with identifying the different battery types. How is that helpful to people, or the environment?


The average US person throws away eight household batteries per year. Given the heavy metals used to make batteries, and the frequency of disposal, I now have to wonder if the concern over CFL disposal has been manufactured. Or, maybe the question is why is not a big deal being made of battery recycling and pollution?

Keep recycling rechargeable retailers participating in the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation recycling program, including Batteries Plus and Radio Shack, Home Depot and Sears, Staples, Target and WalMart, and cell phone stores. But, since we can not generally recycle household batteries at the moment, my recommendation is to save them for the day you can recycle them.

My other suggestion is to use more rechargeable batteries and recycle them when they have reached the end of their life cycle. I've been using rechargeables for awhile, but it's time to buy more so I can reduce the number of non-rechargeable batteries I buy.


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