Tossing batteries in the garbage is bad. It wastes potential resources. It harms the environment as the batteries corrode and break down. And, besides, recycling batteries isn’t difficult. All told, there are many good reasons to recycle batteries.
Let’s discuss 10 such reasons that will have you sprinting to your community’s electronics recycling day.
Batteries are Bad for the Environment
As we stated above, batteries are harmful to the environment. Batteries that are not recycled will find their way to the landfill, where they will corrode. This can lead to pollution of the environment from a variety of different toxic materials.
The type of materials in any particular battery will vary depending upon the type of battery. Many car batteries, for example, contain plastic, lead, and even sulfuric acid.
What’s So Bad About Battery Materials? We’ll Tell You
Other batteries—like those in phones and such—may contain other materials. And some of these other materials can be quite dangerous. A brief litany of possible chemical substances one might find in a battery would include:
- Sulfuric acid
- Lithium cobalt oxide
- Cadmium hydroxide
- Potassium hydroxide
- And more
Does anyone want sulfuric acid or lithium or anything else like that finding its way into the water supply? Traces of some battery chemicals have already been detected in the oceans. And the problem will only get worse over time unless we do something about it.
Recycling Batteries Reduces Chemicals in Landfills
We mentioned landfills above, but they are important enough to warrant their own section. The thing about landfills is that you don’t want to fill them up with things that break down into dangerous chemicals and the like. Batteries are one such thing.
The fewer batteries that go into the landfill, the more space there will be available for other things that might actually belong in a landfill. But really, the idea is to keep as much out of the landfill as possible. Especially those things that are or can be dangerous.
Reuse Valuable Resources by Recycling Batteries
As should be apparent from the discussion above regarding batteries and the environment, batteries are constructed from a number of different materials. Some of these materials are valuable resources that can be reused.
The lead-acid batteries we mentioned are a perfect example.
Nearly every component of these batteries can be recovered and reused. In fact, with today’s technology, it is possible to recycle lead-acid batteries so completely that nearly each and every old battery can be used to produce a new battery.
Regardless, even in the case of other batteries that aren’t 100% recyclable, many valuable resources can still be harvested. Some of these materials include:
- And more
Some of these materials can go into making new batteries, while others can be used for other products from stainless steel to ceramics to glass. Some can even be used to make sunscreen, and others can even find use in dietary supplements.
Recycling Batteries Slows the Extraction of Additional Resources
The more metals and other resources we can get from harvesting recycled batteries, the fewer metals and other materials we must extract from the Earth. Not only does that reduce our environmental footprint—because some of those mining processes are pretty harmful to the planet and its environment—recycling batteries conserve our resources.
And not just physical resources are conserved, but resources in terms of energy as well. It’s a win-win.
The reuse of metal saves resources, time, money and energy.
First off, to reuse a metal that has already been used in some other product, all that is needed is that product and a method of retrieving the metal. That saves the effort of first, finding the metal, and second, digging it out the Earth—which can be a lengthy, expensive process.
And very often, lengthy, expensive processes are not only time-consuming but energy-consuming as well. Why not get as much use as possible out of every bit of material that is mined rather than dig up another resource every time a new product needs to be made? How do you do that? Recycling.
Recycling Batteries Saves Energy
One can save energy by recycling batteries in two different ways. The first way is pretty much as we described above under “Limiting the Extraction of Additional Resources.”
A recycled battery reduces the need to extract all those materials from the Earth. That saves all the energy that might have been required to dig the metals out of the Earth, transport the materials along the roads, extract and refine the metals from the ore, and so on.
That is a large energy saving.
But there is also a more subtle benefit that occurs when you experience a shift in attitude toward energy consumption and your own responsibility in the matter. This may lead you to modify your own habits to incorporate energy-saving behaviors in your day-to-day living.
You might just change your ways.
Changing habits can save a significant amount of energy! You might, for example:
- Switch to plug-in appliances as much as possible. Plug-ins get their energy from a renewable source rather than a battery and may be less wasteful in the long run, especially if you conserve.
- Get the most from your batteries. Consciously try to use up as much charge as possible in your batteries before recycling them. It’s a simple fact that some appliances run on less energy than others. A good tactic would be to swap out batteries from a high-energy consuming device to a lower energy-consuming device when the batteries start to fail.
- Switch to rechargeable batteries. When you can, moving to rechargeables saves money, energy, and the environment. Three good things to save.
Reduce the Fire-Risk from Lithium-Ion Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are batteries commonly found in smartphones, laptop computers, and other devices. And as a huge portion of the human population on the planet possesses smartphones (as well as laptops and what-have-you), that makes lithium-ion batteries quite common on good old Earth.
Although an improvement over earlier battery technology, lithium-ion batteries do have an issue with sometimes being dangerous. In particular, a lithium-ion battery that still has a charge and is subsequently damaged might spark and ignite on its own.
Obviously, this can cause problems. It could burn a person if it ignites on their flesh. It could burn someone’s house down if it ignites while they’re sleeping. Or, if disposed of in a landfill, it could cause a fire. And the thing with landfill fires is that they could go on for many years underground, perhaps even undetected. And who knows what just might be in a landfill?
Just think of all the chemicals and materials wasted in the modern age being burned up in the landfill and expelled into the air. It’s not a pleasant thought.
Reduce How Much Waste We Produce
This reason is loosely related to the environment but probably dates back to many years before environmental concerns were popular. There has always been a moral concern over waste. Just look at food, for example. Can someone be comfortable with throwing out a meal they don’t want when they know someone somewhere is starving?
It’s the same principle here. Waste is bad. Throwing out batteries is wasteful. It wastes:
We’ve already discussed energy and resources, so there is no need to repeat ourselves, but what about space? Consider how much space batteries consume in landfills … space that could be better used on material that actually belongs in a landfill.
There are over three hundred twenty million people in the United States alone. And most, if not all, use batteries for something. Usually many batteries. That’s a lot of batteries (billions, perhaps?). Think of all that space they are consuming. Recycling is a remedy for that waste.
Reap Potential Reimbursement for Recycling Efforts
As we’ve said, used batteries still contain valuable materials inside them. This includes the many metals we’ve listed like copper, zinc, lithium, etc.… as well as other materials of possible value. These materials may be inaccessible to the layman, but not to the recycling companies. As a result, the batteries have economic value to those companies.
Sometimes these companies give money in exchange for recycling the batteries they receive. The amount of money depends on the type of battery. Another factor is the current market value of the materials involved. And, of course, there is the location of the company. Some places, depending on where they are, may not give money. That is, of course, bad luck.
But, if worse comes worst, it’s only a no-cost transaction. You might not get any money, but you shouldn’t have to pay anything.
Recycling Batteries is Legally Required
This may not be universally true (at least, not across the globe), but in many places, it is required by law to recycle batteries. In the United States, federal and state laws have been passed regarding battery recycling.
Due to the chemistries involved in some batteries like lead-acid batteries, nickel-cadmium, lithium-ion, etc., laws have been passed to require those batteries to be properly recycled. Also, some of the various fifty states put their own spin on battery regulations. California, for example, mandates disposal in facilities that deal with hazardous waste.
As far as penalties go, those who improperly dispose of batteries are forced to pay a fine. And some of those fines can be pretty severe.
Recycling Batteries Removes Them from Your Property
Batteries are physical objects. If they are not being used, they are merely taking up physical space. This might not be a big deal if it is a single AAA battery forgotten in a desk drawer, but what about when you have fifty of them? Or how about an old useless car battery sitting in your garage? Again, they’re just taking up space, space that could be used for something else.
Naturally, the solution is to take the battery or batteries in to be recycled. It’s quick and easy and good for a lot of reasons.
Why Is It Bad to Throw Batteries in the Garbage?
Probably, the primary reason that throwing batteries in the garbage is bad is that it is bad for the environment. Garbage typically goes straight to a landfill. And a landfill is not a good place for batteries to be.
- Batteries don’t biodegrade. They corrode. Batteries are typically made of metals and plastics which don’t biodegrade. Eventually, they will disintegrate, but that is a process that takes many, many years. The first step in that process, though, is corrosion. As the battery corrodes, it will release the acids and other dangerous materials inside it into the area around it.
- Corrosive battery materials harm the environment. These materials will escape into the rest of the landfill. From there, they can find their way into nearby soils and watercourses, polluting them and causing health problems for both animals and humans alike. Some materials can even start fires in the landfill sending noxious chemicals into the air to wreak another kind of havoc.
As can be seen, batteries that wind up in landfills can cause a lot of problems. There are other reasons why it is bad to throw batteries in the garbage, which we have covered above. They include things like wastefulness of both materials and energy and other such things.
So, don’t throw batteries out. It’s just bad all around.
Recycle them, instead.
In this modern-day and age, with all of the mobile technology we use, batteries are so commonplace that we almost forget they’re there. And we forget how harmful the materials in them are. Left in a landfill, batteries leak dangerous chemicals into our Earth.
We should all do our part and recycle our batteries. It’s the right thing to do. Save the planet! Recycle your batteries today!