There’s an overwhelming sense of guilt that washes over me when I throw something in the trash that probably shouldn’t be there—particularly when it comes to e-waste. Are broken headphones recyclable? What should I do with old laptop chargers? And what do I do with all these dead batteries piling up in my apartment?
This week, Consumer Reports tackled the tricky problem of battery recycling and waste. Batteries pose a huge environmental danger when they leak into landfills, given the amount of toxic chemicals they may contain, including lithium, lead, and sulphuric acid. All of these can potentially contaminate waterways and eventually enter our drinking supply.
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In California, batteries are considered hazardous waste when thrown in the trash, and instead, must be recycled or brought to a hazardous waste disposal facility. But some batteries are worse than others—your standard double AA battery, for instance, isn’t going to cause serious damage when you compare it to a car battery’s potential waste.
In any case, a key thing to keep in mind is that some batteries are more recyclable than others.
Rechargeable batteries often contain heavy metals and pose a greater danger than single-use batteries; accordingly, many manufacturers are mandated by law to fund rechargeable battery recycling programs. Single-use alkaline batteries, like the ones in your remote control, might be harder to get rid of because there simply isn’t a well-funded program to handle them.
To find the closest retailer to you that might accept rechargeable or single-use batteries, you can use Call 2 Recycle’s locator. Major retailers like Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Staples also accept rechargeable batteries (and usually cell phone ones, too) and often have bins for you to drop them off in.
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If you can’t find a place to recycle your single-use batteries, throwing them in the trash might be your best bet (unless you live in California!).
Until the mid-’90s, it might have been considered blasphemy to trash them, since they were still being made with mercury. This was outlawed in 1996, and now, most single-use batteries are made of “safer” non-heavy metals. According to Consumer Reports, when throwing a battery in the trash, you should stick a piece of tape over the contacts to lower the overall risk of causing a fire.
For things like car batteries, your first step should be to contact your local auto parts store to see if they will accept them. Advance Auto Parts stores, for instance, accepts most car batteries for free. For any other specific battery types, you can also use Earth 911’s locator for the closest facility.
And if you’re wondering, old batteries aren’t always repurposed into new batteries. Nickel can be recycled into golf clubs or silverware and alkaline in single-use batteries can be used for asphalt—so your old remote batteries are capable of serving a greater purpose than just changing the channel.
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