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Thursday, May 11, 2006 03:45 pm

Earth Talk

From the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear “Earth Talk”: I’ve heard that it is now safe to throw away common household batteries and that only rechargeable batteries can now be recycled. Is this true? — Doug Reynolds, Martinsville, Ind.
Today’s common household batteries — those ubiquitous AA’s, AAA’s, C’s, D’s and 9-volts from Duracell, Energizer, and others — are not thought to pose as great a threat to properly equipped modern landfills as they used to because they contain much less mercury than their predecessors did. For this reason, most municipalities now recommend simply throwing such batteries away with your trash. Nevertheless, environmentally concerned consumers might feel better recycling such batteries anyway because they still do contain trace amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic stuff. Some municipalities will accept these batteries (as well as older, more toxic ones) at household-hazardous-waste facilities, from where they will most likely be sent elsewhere to be processed and recycled as components in new batteries. Other options — such as the mail-order service Battery Solutions, which will recycle your spent batteries at a cost of 85 cents per pound — abound. To find a company near you where you can drop off your old batteries for recycling, check out the comprehensive national database at the Earth911.org Web site. Meanwhile, the national chain Batteries Plus is happy to take back disposable batteries for recycling at any of its 255 retail stores from coast to coast. Consumers should note that any old batteries they may find buried in their closets that were made before 1997 — when Congress mandated a widespread mercury phase-out in batteries of all types — should most surely be recycled and not discarded with the trash because they may contain as much as 10 times the mercury of newer versions. Perhaps of greater concern nowadays is what’s happening to spent rechargeable batteries from cell phones, MP3 players and laptops. Such items contain potentially toxic heavy metals sealed up inside and, if thrown out with the regular garbage, can jeopardize the environmental integrity of both landfills and incinerator emissions. Luckily, the battery industry sponsors the operations of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp., which facilitates the collection of used rechargeable batteries in an industry-wide “take back” program for recycling. Consumers can help by limiting their electronics purchases to items that carry the RBRC logo on their packaging. Furthermore, you can find out where to drop off old rechargeable batteries (and even old cell phones) by calling RBRC’s hotline, 800-8BATTERY or visiting the online drop-location finder at www.rbrc.org. Also, most Radio Shack stores will take back rechargeable batteries and deliver them to RBRC free of charge. RBRC then processes the batteries by means of a thermal recovery technology that reclaims metals such as nickel, iron, cadmium, lead, and cobalt, repurposing them for use in new batteries.
For more information: Battery Solutions, www.batteryrecycling.com; Earth911, www.earth911.org; Batteries Plus, www.batteriesplus.com; Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp., www.rbrc.org.
Send questions to “Earth Talk” in care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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