I have worried for several years about all the odd items that should be recycled, but normally just go in to the household trash. A recent post and its comments touched on this subject. Thinking we could do more to recycle all the alkaline batteries our family goes through each year, I started making phone calls and doing some research. What I discovered really surprised me!
Most of what you find on the internet supported my belief that, ideally all batteries should be recycled. But, it seems that most of what I found on the internet is incorrect and outdated information. It turns out that maybe we can be less concerned about throwing our alkaline batteries in the trash than I had thought.
My education started with a call to a local battery store asking them if I could save alkaline batteries and bring them in to them for recycling. They said “no” and that “recycling alkaline batteries was not necessary”. They do accept rechargeable batteries for recycling. I contacted a national chain, Batteries Plus, and was told the same thing.
Here is what I found on the Duracell Battery web site:
“Alkaline batteries can be safely disposed of with normal household waste. Due to concerns about mercury in the municipal solid waste stream, Duracell has voluntarily eliminated all of the added mercury from its alkaline batteries since 1993 while maintaining the performance you demand. Our alkaline batteries are composed primarily of common metals such as steel, zinc and manganese that and do not pose a health or environmental risk during normal use or disposal.”
The Energizer web site says: “Energizer recommends recycling rechargeable, but not alkaline batteries, even indicating that alkaline batteries can safely go to city incinerators.”
I even found a couple of sites that said that if you bring alkaline batteries to recycling centers or events, they are separated from the rechargeables and typically end up in the landfill or incinerator anyway.
Some organizations are quite blunt in their information. The Consumer Electronics Association Question and Answer Website says: “Alkaline batteries are not recyclable. They’ll just be thrown out in a landfill, or at the most a hazardous waste landfill.”
I found only one company that says they recycle alkaline batteries, but I saw another web site that mentioned this same company and said they store most of their collected alkaline batteries in underground concrete bunkers, waiting for the day when the materials in them can be recovered with more cost effective methods.
In summary, because alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury and because of the small amount of recoverable metals in them, they are not typically recycled. Some claims are made that using regular alkaline batteries is actually better environmentally than using rechargeables. I have trouble with this claim, but the reasoning behind it is this. Rechargeable batteries can contain mercury, cadmium, lead, and lithium. There are environmental impacts associated with the manufacture of rechargeable batteries. Many rechargeable batteries do end up being tossed into the regular trash by people who are either unaware that they should be recycled, or feel it is just too much trouble to do so.
It appears the reality is this: Alkaline batteries do not contain as many toxic components as I had thought. They do, however contain metals like nickel, cobalt, zinc, manganese, and silver. At this time there are no real cost effective methods available to recover these metals. In addition, many claims are made that these common metals pose no environmental threat when disposed of with normal household trash.
I think it might take a while for me to get used to this reality. I would still be worried if your community uses an incinerator to dispose of trash as the metals from the batteries might end up in the air. I do think I will be able to feel less guilty when I do toss out expended alkaline batteries in our trash which goes to a landfill. I will continue to make sure any rechargeable batteries or car batteries we use up get recycled, but I may have to revise my thinking and get off my high horse when it comes to alkaline batteries.
Let me know what you think and feel free to include links to information I might have missed. Recycling is an important and visible issue and we need to make sure we have our facts right!