From remote controls and garage door openers to alarm clocks and toys, almost everything runs on some type of battery power these days. In the U.S. we use approximately 3 billion single-use batteries each year. This is in addition to all the rechargeable batteries found in gadgets like electric toothbrushes and cell phones, estimated at 350 million per year. Unlike car batteries which are required to be recycled in most states, there are few regulations which apply to household batteries, and most of them end up being landfilled. In fact, Americans dispose of about 180,000 pounds of batteries in the trash annually.
Why recycle batteries?
All batteries, regardless of whether they are single-use, rechargeable or wet cell, contain heavy metals. Those metals include mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel. These metals are toxic to the environment and can be released when the batteries are crushed in the landfill, or released as airborne toxins during incineration.
Mercury has been phased out of many, but not all, batteries thanks to the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act of 1996. Among other things, the Act requires that batteries must be easily removed from consumer products so that they are easily recycled, have a label indicating their specific chemistry and a printed message that they must be recycled or disposed of properly, and they must be imprinted with the nationally recognized recycling symbol.
What States require household battery recycling?
Among US states, only California has a broad recycling mandate for both single-use and rechargeable household batteries. New York requires that all Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) and Lead Acid (Pb) rechargeable batteries be recycled. 20 other states require recycling of rechargeable Lead Acid batteries, and another 9 states also require recycling of Nickel-Cadmium batteries. 19 states have no household battery recycling laws on the books at all.
Where can I recycle my batteries?
If you live in a state that requires recycling of rechargeable batteries, you will most likely be able to return them to the retailer or manufacturer. Even in states without a recycling law on the books, retailers such as Best Buy, Office Depot and other electronics merchants will have free depositories, so check with these outfits.
Single-use batteries are more problematic. Unfortunately these are the most commonly used batteries, and they are also the hardest to recycle. Some municipal programs collect them curbside, and some municipal programs provide drop off locations. However, many of these facilities limit their use to residents of the city or county. Try using Earth911.com’s locator service on their home page to see if there is a site near you. You may also check with the Hazardous Waste division of your county Health Department.
Call2Recycle provides dropoff centers for rechargeable batteries throughout the U.S. Businesses, municipalities and community organizations can sign up to be a participating location provide battery recycling free of charge. Visit Call2Recycle’s web site for more information on their program and participating locations.
There are also companies throughout the U.S. that provide mail-in service. Most, however, charge for the program. Participants can order ‘recycle kits’ at a price. The kits include a pre-paid mailing label to send the batteries in once collected. Prices range from as low as $25 to as high as $200. Earth911 lists these sites in addition to drop off centers in their locator service.
If all else fails, check with local retailers, particularly those that sell electronics or computers.