How to Choose Batteries That Don’t Damage our Planet
Household batteries’ small size belies the big impact they have on the planet. Americans purchase two to three billion dry-cell batteries every year to power radios, toys, cell phones, watches, laptop computers, various kitchen tools and appliances, and even garden and workshop tools. This portable power is great. Its impact on the environment? Not so much.
* Batteries contain heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel.
* Household batteries, especially alkaline and button batteries, are the single-largest source of mercury in our trash.
* Mercury is highly toxic. Long-term exposure can permanently damage the brain and kidneys and the fetus in pregnant women. As much as possible, we should avoid throwing mercury-laden batteries “away,” since they’ll eventually break apart in landfills and the mercury could leach into groundwater.
Fortunately, following the Three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle) can minimize the impact batteries have on us and Nature.
It is possible to shift away from throwaway batteries almost completely. Here’s how:
* Buy fewer toys, appliances, and electronics that need battery power. Instead choose products that can be powered electrically or by hand. We actually have a couple of portable radios that we hand-crank. They’re particularly handy to have during power outages, or even when you’re looking for a little exercise to do when you’re watching tv.
* Turn off battery-powered appliances when you’re not using them to extend the life of the battery. This should be a no-brainer. Why deplete the power when there’s no need? If you won’t be using something for a long time, it actually makes sense to remove the batteries altogether so their juice won’t slowly drain away, which can happen even if they’re not turned on.
* Choose rechargeables. You’ll use fewer batteries overall, though even rechargeables contain heavy metals and ultimately should be recycled. Some batteries come with a USB port on one end so you can plug them into a laptop or desktop hard-drive and recharge them without using any extra electricity.
* Tap into the power of the sun. Many innovative batteries are actually mini panels of electricity-generating photovoltaic cells. They can be free-standing or part of something like a backpack and can be plugged into cell phones, iPods and MP3 players, and other devices.
* Use your car cigarette lighter. I bought an adapter for my car’s cigarette lighter that has a port that fits my phone. I probably charge my phone as much using the car lighter as I do using other devices.
No matter what kind of battery you use, eventually it will die. Rather than throw it in the trash, you can do the following:
* Take batteries from mobile devices to big-box appliance stores and retailers that sell office equipment. They usually have a bin on hand where you can toss these used electronics for recycling.
* Contact your community’s solid waste management facility or department of public works. Many communities now hold hazardous waste pick-ups or collections a couple of times a year. Keep all your used batteries in a shoe box, plastic container with lid, or heavy duty zip-lock type plastic bag until you can turn them over to be properly disposed of. NOTE: If replacing a car battery, make sure to have the work done at a shop that recycles the batteries.
* Contact Earth 911 to locate battery recycling facilities convenient to your home.
What battery alternatives work best for you? Please share!