Broadcast from the Bins

 

Number 5: Beware Binning Batteriesbatteries

When we’re carefully putting our recyclables aside, before diligently placing them into the correct wheelie bin, it’s easy to overlook what, on the face of it, seems a harmless little thing destined for landfill. Or is it simply that we’d rather forget about used batteries because putting them to one side requires a little bit of effort, in a world that most of us just want to simplify? Whatever our reasoning, it’s time to take battery recycling seriously because, as waste, they’re far from being harmless. So, what are their dangers and what can we do to dispose of them safely?

The UK uses 600 million batteries every year. They can be found in every room of the house, powering all sorts of things, from television remote controls to children’s toys. They’re our useful, little friends, but once they are no longer able to serve their purpose we are happy to discard them without a second thought. In fact, 22,000 tonnes of them end up in our landfill sites every year. The statistics in other countries are even more alarming. The United States throws away an incredible 84,000 tonnes of alkaline batteries alone, one fifth of which contain hazardous materials.

battery recyclingThese dangerous substances include heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, mercury and nickel. Once in landfill, a battery’s protective casing is prone to being crushed and these nasties are then free to infiltrate our groundwater and soil, endangering wildlife and ultimately ourselves. Cadmium, in particular, is extremely harmful to both plant roots and fish. If we come into contact with these agents the best we can hope to get away with is some minor skin irritation and nausea, although exposure over a prolonged period has been linked to cancer. And it’s not just our land and water that we’re putting in danger; our air too is at risk. That’s because of the possibility of discarded batteries being accidentally burnt, which results in noxious substances being released into the atmosphere, not to mention the very real danger of explosions.

So before slipping used batteries unnoticed into the household waste, consider the effects they might have on our environment and the sensible alternative action that we can take. If a device accepts rechargeable batteries, all well and good; if not, then it really isn’t that difficult to dispose of them safely. Over the last ten years, European Union legislation has compelled any shop selling more than one pack of batteries a day to take old ones for recycling. When you next enter your local supermarket take a look near the entrance and you’ll inevitably see a collection point, where they can be safely deposited. Some forward thinking local authorities voluntarily provide the same service, offering recycling points in town halls, libraries and schools.

On a final note, consider this fact: It takes fifty times more energy to produce a battery than it provides over the course of its entire life. That really is an inefficient use of energy. Batteries deserve recycling.

battery