What To Do With Batteries

What to do with Batteries

Reprinted with permission from Lane County Waste Management

If you live and watch TV in America, then you'e seen that pink bunny advertising the battery that "keeps going and going and going."  While it's true that modern alkaline batteries have a longer life expectancy than their ancestors of just a few years ago, no battery keeps on going forever. Whether you use the most expensive brand or the cheapest, that bunny'll stop beating its little drum sooner or later.  What happens next, though, is up to you. If you're like a lot of folks, you'll head for the Drawer of Mystery, where way in the back, behind the rubber bands, old receipts, dried out pens and odd coat buttons, you'll find a few loose batteries.  Are they fresh? Dead? Who can remember? And what to do with the dead batteries you just took out? Let's see -- they're hazardous waste, right? Or are they recyclable? Garbage? And so it is that they go back into the Drawer of Mystery. Who's got time for this?

Relax. There are answers to all these questions, and one thing you can do to avoid them almost completely.  If you'd like to be able to buy fewer batteries, save money and create less waste, use rechargeable batteries.   They can be re-energized over and over, so you spend less on batteries. Because you can reuse them many times, you don't have to throw them away -- or throw out the packaging they came in -- as often. Yes, there's an initial investment, since rechargeable's cost more to buy, and you'll need a charging unit. However, it's easy to see that one set of rechargeable batteries can replace several sets of standard dry cell batteries, because the rechargeable's can be re-energized many times. In addition, some types are even recyclable when they finally give up the bunny uh, the ghost. 

One thing you will notice, if do some research on the subject, is that there are several types of rechargeable batteries available. The next thing you will notice is that each type has advocates who claim it to be far superior to all the others. While there are certain specialized uses that require a specific type of battery for the best service, there are some simple guidelines to help you choose.  Anyway, in almost all cases any of the various types of rechargeable's will prove better than standard non-rechargeable alkaline's. Here are a few tips to help you make the best choice: 

· Ni-Cd or NiMH Batteries.  For devices that get regular use, nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries are good choices. Because they do lose their charge when they sit idle, though, they may not be best choices for items like that flashlight you keep in the car "just in case."  By the time you need to use the flashlight, there may be little or no charge left in the batteries. The good news: Ni-Cd and NiMH rechargeable's can withstand hundreds or even thousands of charge/discharge cycles before they must be retired, so for items like radios, pagers and personal stereos, either type is a good choice. Oh, and the dreaded "memory effect?" More good news: in newer generation Ni-Cds, the effect can be detected only by sophisticated measuring equipment. You won't notice it. 

  • Rechargeable Alkaline's
    For items which are infrequently used, rechargeable alkaline batteries may be a better choice. Like their non-rechargeable alkaline cousins, they hold their charge well in storage. However, rechargeable alkaline's can't be recharged as many times as Ni-Cd and NiMH batteries. You'll still see a cost savings over conventional alkaline's, though, and you'll create much less waste. 
  • Lead Acid batteries
    Auto batteries are lead acid batteries.  They are rechargeable, illegal to throw away, but recyclable.  Also used in some cordless phones and camcorders.
  • Lithium batteries
    Often found in cameras.  Not rechargeable but need special disposal.
  • Button batteries
    Used in watches, hearing aids and small electronic devices.  Need special disposal and are not rechargeable. 

So what about the proper disposal of spent batteries? First, a little background.  Under Oregon law, alkaline batteries sold in the state since 1996 cannot contain mercury - the most hazardous component in older generation alkaline batteries. Thus, the alkaline batteries you've bought since then are not a hazardous waste. However, other types of batteries like Ni-Cd rechargeable's, lithium batteries and other specialized types like silver oxide and button cells are hazardous when they are thrown away because they do contain toxic compounds. Again, there's good news.  Ni-Cd, silver oxide and mercury cells can be efficiently recycled and the hazardous heavy metals reclaimed and used in new products. Lithium cells aren't recyclable, but instead are destroyed at permitted hazardous waste incinerators. Take Ni-Cd, NiMH, lithium, silver oxide, lead acid and mercury cells to the recycling area of any Lane County transfer site for proper disposal or recycling. The alkaline batteries that just went dead in your radio? Ironically, the mercury used in the old alkaline's was the most valuable component. With the mercury gone, there's little worth recovering, so spent alkaline's are trash - another great reason to use rechargeable's! 

For more information on battery recycling and disposal, contact the Lane County Special Waste Program at (541) 682-4120