According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans use billions of batteries every year. That’s Billions, with a B. We’re absolutely dependent on them. Try getting through a day without using batteries at home or at work. Chances are you use batteries to do all kinds of things: start your car, talk on your cell phone, take photos with your digital camera, read email on your laptop, and relax (or rock out) to the music on your iPod. And if you happen to be a patient when the hospital loses power, you’ll be grateful for life-saving batteries.
But that presents a major problem: What do you do with all those dead batteries? Throw them out. Buy some more. Use those up. Throw them out. Buy, use, throw. Buy, use, throw… Sounds like a bad habit.
Batteries are considered a disposable commodity in the United States. It’s relatively cheap to stock up on extras, and many of us do, just to be sure we have them around when one of our toys or tools dies. A better alternative would be to use rechargeable batteries, though they, too, have a limited life span.
In the past, pretty much everyone threw their spent batteries into the trash, which was hauled away to a landfill. We did it for years. Now, landfills across the U.S. hold billions of discarded batteries, leaking zinc, alkalis, nickel, cadmium, lead, mercury, and silver into our groundwater supplies. Sure, the batteries themselves are small. Some are tinier than an adult’s little finger. But the environmental punch they pack is huge.
Reduce Your Use
The most important step you can take in eliminating battery waste is to reduce the number of batteries you buy. But that’s not practical unless you also purchase fewer items that use batteries to operate, and that’s not likely. We Americans love our battery-operated gadgets. In many ways, we depend on them. So the next-best step is to stop buying so many disposables.
In a 2007 study, Bio Intelligence Service found that rechargeable batteries were better than disposable batteries in several ways. (As you look at these results, keep in mind that the study was sponsored by Uniross, a French battery manufacturer.) Compared to disposables, rechargeable batteries were found to be potentially less harmful to the environment in the following ways:
- Air Pollution (Ozone): 30X less
- Global Warming: 28X less
- Non-Renewable Natural Resources: 23X less
- Air Acidification: 9X less
- Water Pollution: 3X less
So, if you have a choice between using rechargeable batteries or alkaline batteries, choose rechargeables. And if you have AC power available, and your gadget is equipped with a cord, plug in. Let the grid run your equipment while you can, and use batteries only when you have to pick up and go.
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)