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Volume 14, Issue 18 ~ May 4 - May 10, 2006

Got an Environmental Question? Send it to: EARTH TALK, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or submit your question at: Or e-mail us at: [email protected].
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Battery Reincarnation

Where should batteries go after they expire?

I’ve heard that it is now safe to throw away common household batteries and that only rechargeable batteries can now be recycled. Is this true?

—Doug Reynolds, Martinsville, Indiana

Today’s common household batteries are not thought to pose as great a threat to properly equipped modern landfills as they used to because they contain much less mercury than their predecessors. Most municipalities now recommend simply throwing such batteries away with your trash.

Nevertheless, environmentally concerned consumers might feel better recycling such batteries anyway, as they still contain trace amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic stuff. Some municipalities will accept these batteries (as well as older, more toxic ones) at household hazardous waste facilities, from where they will most likely be sent elsewhere to be processed and recycled as components in new batteries.

Other options abound, such as the mail-order service, Battery Solutions, which will recycle your spent batteries at a cost of 85 cents per pound. To find a company near you where you can drop off your old batteries for recycling, check out the comprehensive national database at the website.

Consumers should note that any old batteries they may find buried in their closets that were made before 1997 — when Congress mandated a widespread mercury phase-out in batteries of all types — should most surely be recycled and not discarded with the trash, as they may contain as much as 10 times the mercury of newer versions.

Perhaps of greater concern nowadays is what’s happening to spent rechargeable batteries from cell phones, MP3 players and laptops. Such items contain potentially toxic heavy metals sealed up inside, and if thrown out with the regular garbage they can jeopardize the environmental integrity of both landfills and incinerator emissions. The battery industry sponsors the operations of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, which facilitates the collection of used rechargeable batteries collected in an industry-wide take back program for recycling.

Consumers can help by limiting their electronics purchases to items that carry the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation logo on their packaging. Furthermore, they can find out where to drop off old rechargeable batteries (and even old cell phones) by calling Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation’s hotline at 800-8battery or by visiting the online drop location finder at Also, most Radio Shack stores will take back rechargeable batteries and deliver them to the corporation free of charge. Those batteries are then processed via a thermal recovery technology that reclaims metals such as nickel, iron, cadmium, lead and cobalt, repurposing them for use in new batteries.

For more information:

• Battery Solutions:

• Earth911:

• Batteries Plus:

• Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation:

Email your environmental questions to [email protected]

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