Part 4: Safety Tips for Battery Recycling
Collecting batteries for recycling doesn’t mean just dumping them together into a box or a pail. Careless handling of batteries — spent or not — can lead to disastrous consequences. Even if the charge in a battery is too depleted to run a flashlight, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no charge at all. And remember all the toxic chemicals that are packaged inside of those innocuous-looking batteries? Sometimes they leak out of their shiny plastic coverings and create a real biohazard. Leaking battery acid plus electrical charges equal danger and possible explosion.
As you gather old household batteries for recycling, follow these simple steps for safety:
- Check to see that each battery is dry. If not, wipe it off with a disposable paper towel or rag.
- Be cautious when handling a battery that is dirty or has a white powdery substance on it. Avoid touching the dirty area, then thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
- Place each individual battery into its own plastic bag to prevent short-circuits. (Some recyclers will provide them with the recycling container.) If no bag is available, cover the terminals with electrical or duct tape.
- Securely seal each bag.
- Place the sealed bags into an approved recycling container.
- Store batteries in a cool, dry place with good ventilation. Never store batteries where temperatures might be hotter than 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and do NOT smoke near batteries.
- Protect batteries from damage, including punctures and crushing. Keep away from other hazardous materials.
- When the container is full, but not overflowing, seal it for shipping.
- Make sure that the full container does not exceed the weight limit for which it was designed.
- Handle with care. If the box is dropped, and the batteries spill out, a fire could result.
Federal regulations govern the shipment and handling of recycled batteries. They’re designed to protect consumers and workers from hazards such as explosion. This is serious business. And the penalties for violating the regulations are serious, too. So, handle with care — for everyone’s sake. (Find a reputable battery recycler.)
Recycling batteries is slightly more trouble than recycling soda cans or newspapers, but it’s well worth any extra effort it takes. The toxic wastes that go into the landfill eventually leach into the groundwater. (May I offer you a nice, cool drink of water, flavored with a twist of mercury? Or would you prefer a splash of lead-acid?) It may not happen in your lifetime. It may not even happen in the next generation. Or the next one after that. But eventually, the hazardous chemicals will leak out. And the generations who follow will pay for this generation’s carelessness.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Start by purchasing only the batteries that you need. Take care of the batteries you have so that they last as long as possible and don’t have to be replaced as often. Then recycle them properly when they’re spent. And, even though alkaline batteries are considered “safe” for disposal in the landfill, avoid it if you can; these batteries contain strong alkalis. When trash is crushed in a landfill, the casings break; then the electrolytes leak out and combine with other liquids in the landfill to create a deadly soup.
So, make a conscious effort to collect any old batteries lying around your home or workplace. And look for a battery recycler who will take all the batteries you no longer need. Let’s leave future generations a world worth inheriting, one that doesn’t have hidden hazards seeping into the water they drink.
Part 1: Much Ado about Batteries
Part 2: The Inside Scoop on Batteries
Part 3: Finding a Battery Recycler
Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)