Yes, We Do Need To Recycle Alkaline Batteries

by updated 2011/04/09

Dateline Trail, B.C, Canada – Toxco Corporation. This just in, now help spread the word… We can and should recycle alkaline batteries. I have written on this topic a couple of times before, but it almost seems like more questions were raised than answered!

Some places that take batteries for recycling have big signs asking you not to put alkaline batteries in the container. Other places, like Batteries Plus here in Oregon, that accept rechargeable batteries from you, refuse to take alkaline, or is you insist, take them and toss them in the trash.

I have also read on a few web sites, claims that companies that take all kinds of batteries, actually just sort and ship the alkaline ones somewhere for storage and do not recycle them. Another site said there are no companies that will still recycle alkaline batteries and that the companies that do collect them along with other types, sort out the alkaline and toss them. So, in the end, I really didn’t know what to think. Fortunately, Pete, in comment #7, (thank you :-) )came to the rescue with a recommendation to learn about The Big Green Box.

Hoping that the Big Green Box program is doing something with the alkaline batteries they collect to keep them out of the landfill, I went to their web site. Even the linked news stories on their site talk about reprocessing the material on rechargeable batteries, but say nothing much about what happens to the alkaline. In the end, I could not find anything there specific enough to convince old skeptical me, so I began with the phone calls.

Eventually I reached Ed Green at Toxco. He is the person in charge of the Big Green Box program. He is amazingly knowledgeable, and was very thorough in educating me about the history of alkaline batteries and the current status of recycling them.

Although by 1990 mercury was “banned” from alkaline batteries, they still contain a small amount of mercury. Apparently this is an unavoidable part of the manufacturing and mining processes. When the other metals in alkaline batteries, like zinc and manganese, are mined, small amounts of mercury are included in the raw ore. The good news is that the process Toxco uses to recycle alkalines also reclaims the mercury.

Toxco actually hand and eye sorts all Big Green Boxes of batteries returned to them. They recycle and recover all the metals in every type of battery. After the alkaline batteries are sorted out in their U.S. collection locations, they are shipped to a British Columbia, Canada facility which crushes them and recovers the zinc, manganese and steel. Any trace amounts of mercury are also recovered in the process.

Unfortunately, there still is no profit, or even a break even point in the process. That is why the Big Green Box must be purchased. The cost of the box subsidizes the cost of the recycling. It may not be practical to expect individuals to purchase a 58.00 box, even if it would hold a year or more supply of exhausted batteries. However, there are several companies that provide boxes that the individual consumer can dispose of their batteries in. These include Longs Drugs, Walgreens, and Whole Foods, among others. In states like California that “require” consumers to recycle their alkaline batteries, there are many more businesses that offer the service. In fact, Ed told me that in those states, Batteries Plus was one of the largest suppliers of The Big Green Box. It’s too bad the Batteries Plus stores in states like Oregon won’t join the program until they are required to!

So, the final word, (hopefully), is in. We can and should try to recycle alkaline batteries. Because in Southern Oregon I believe our Walgreens has the boxes, we should be able to save and safely dispose of ours.

Will Sig
1 Bob

Thanks for all the research you have put into this post! fantastic!

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2 luis

Great blog!

If the economics don’t work, recycling efforts won’t either.
http://LivePaths.com blogs about innovative entrepreneurs that make money selling recycled items, provide green services or help us reduce our dependency on non renewable resources. These includes some very cool Green online ventures, great new technologies, startups and investments opportunities.

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3 Will

You are welcome, Bob. Sometimes the research is quick and easy, other times it takes a few tries. It helps when commentators add bits of their own knowledge for me to follow up on.

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4 Will

Welcome Luis! Thanks for that link. You link your name to the site also. Is it yours? If so do you do it by yourself or are there several of you posting to it?

Everyone – Take a look at the site! As we have run into a few times in discussions here, the economics of the process is such a big issue for recycling.

-Will

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5 Anna

Thanks Will again, I remember that article. I actually investigated what they do in my town – and believe or not we are able to recycle them, I am not sure, but I think we have to take them to the special place. Now you can say that we don’t use much of batteries at home, lol. Anna :)

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6 GeekMom

Hi Will, great post! I gave it a thumbs up on Stumble and linked it from my How to Dispose of Batteries Properly page on Squidoo. I never feel right about tossing my batteries in the trash.
http://www.squidoo.com/howtodisposebatteries

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7 Diane

Batteries don’t go in our normal recycling so we have to collect them up and take them to a central recycling centre. It’s about 4 miles away so I don’t want to be taking just a couple of batteries up at a time as it’s not on my usual route anywhere and it’s up a long hill which I know I can’t cycle up (especially as there’s no cycle route!).

I’d like to offer to take the neighbours batteries up too – but I suspect UK toxic waste rules will restrict the collection and storage of batteries which aren’t directly my own. (Apparently you’re not allowed to collect compost off your neighbours without a waste removal licence)

The reason they don’t collect them at more places is the fact they’re quite toxic and can leak – and have to be stored correctly. All the usual reasons for stopping useful bits of recycling.

I know batteries can leak and can be pretty horrid things but we shouldn’t be putting them in landfill, we need to make it easier and more convenient to recycle.

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8 Will

Hi Diane, and welcome! I can’t imagine that there would be any trouble bringing the batteries of a few neighbors also. But you never know about these government rules!

What do you mean about collecting compost? Do you mean if you asked your neighbor to save kitchen waste for you your compost pile, that would be illegal?

-Will

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9 Chad Gogley

I know there are a lot of people starting to become Earth friendly, but we need to think critically about things. Your typical hippie will be against things such as testing on animals, drinking diet sodas, taking showers, and trying to recycle alkaline batteries. Alkaline batteries are NOT recyclable…if you have really old batteries (before 1997) you may want to recycle those because they MAY have trace amounts of mercury. Oh and animal testing has expanded human life by at least 20 years, the only people that shouldn’t drink diet sodas are phenylketonurics who cannot process the amino acid phenylalanine, and soap is phosphate free so take a shower huh?

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10 Will

Great video on your last post! The facility is in Trail, B.C. But the company is headquartered elsewhere. I think you just need to go to the Big Green Box Participant page and see if any of the companies are in your city.

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11 Going Green

Wow, very informative. I’m interested where the facility is in BC? (I’m in Vancouver).
I can get the box here then I assume as well?

Cheers!
Jay

Going Greens last blog post..End The Global Warming Debate With One Thing We Can All Agree On

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12 Chris

Very interesting article. I am working for a company called Exchange A Blade located in Vancouver, Canada. We have been in talks with a large National Chain to institute a program to have drop boxes for recycling alkaline batteries all across Canada. What has been most frustrating with the whole process is trying to get through all the legal hurdles, as alkaline batteries are considered a hazardous waste in many provinces. To make the process economically feasible we will need to collect the batteries at stores and bulk them into 40-50lb containers before shipping them to our main warehouse in Vancouver. The batteries would be shipped along with saw blades we are already bringing back to our plant for recycling. We would then consolidate the batteries at our plant and send them to a recycler for processing. Unfortunately in order to do this there are many different permits and certifications required.. most of which are difficult to get information on. It is no wonder the battery recycling process has been neglected by companies for so long. It is not just expensive, it lacks government support (at least here in Canada anyways). There are far more barriers than are needed.

Also, on a side note. Are you sure Toxco sends all their batteries to Trail for recycling? The rates for recycling batteries in the US is approximately 1/2 the price of recycling them in Canada. It seems odd that they would price like that if it is in fact far cheaper for them to receive batteries directly at their Trail facility.

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13 Aaron Shultz

Finally! I’ve been hanging on to a ton of alkaline batteries. Thank you for finding this info. I’d rather pay $58 dollars for a box that funds a great service than poison my community.

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14 Karen

I don’t mean to add to the confusion but California regulations do not require alkaline batteries to be recycled. You can either send the batteries to be recycled or dispose of them properly as a hazardous waste. At this point there are no facilities in CA that recycle these batteries and so they are typically incinerated or sent to a deep well.

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15 maria daisy lleno

wow..thanks. I am a student in one of the universities in the Philippines. I would want to start the big green box program or at least something like that in our school but I don’t know where and how to start. Can you please help? thank you. I’ll wait for your response asap.

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16 Will

Hi Maria – I have another article linked below that discusses this and links to the Big Green Box information.

http://willtaft.com/environment/recycling-everything-you-can/

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17 Sylvia

I actually went to the Batteries Plus store in Medford Oregon and tried to recycle my alkaline batteries and was turned away. Two guys standing outside taking a break? who worked there told us that that alkaline batteries are safe now to throw into household trash. When I questioned it one man spoke up saying they are so safe now that you can open them up and put them in the garden soil for benefit of the garden. I had a feeling at the time I was being fed bologna. He is either misinformed or it was propaganda. I’m reseasonbly sure they toss alkaline batteries into the Rogue Dispoal system destined for Jackson Co landfill. Our local talk Radio News channel 1440 KMED with Bill Meyers who I listen to every AM on the way to work touts Batteries Plus as the latest in battery technology and heavily promotes them. I feel lied to but it’s not the first time.

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18 Will

Hi Sylvia! In one of my previous posts on this topic, I talked about Batteries Plus and the corporate line the employees are given to work with. Remember that these are minimum wage positions whose knowledge comes only from the training they receive on the job. And yes, you are correct, don’t leave the alkaline batteries with them. They will just toss them in the trash as you watch.

Remember that, like any media advertising, 1440 KMED will tout whoever pays for the advertising. Nothing wrong with that, though. That is what advertising is.

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19 J. Piper

From someone who has 9+ years in the battery business. Do not recycle your alkaline batteries. Its pointless, and does not help the enviroment one bit. Just think about how much wasted energy and polution go into recycling just one box of alkaline. For every box you send in through ups it first has to go to Baltimore, OH then by truck all the way to British Columbia, Canada. Thats a heck of a lot more pollution than what would have happened had you put them in the trash. Although I’m all for recycling rechargable batteries, leave the alkalines in the garbage.

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20 Chip

Piper, sorry if this seems harsh, but you are a typical example of both the battery industry’s pat response and a person who really does not understand the concept of recycling.

Alkaline batteries do indeed put chemicals and metals into the landfill that should not be there. But even if they did not, they should be recycled, because they can be! Anything that can be recycled reduces the amount of trash trucked to a landfill. Whether something is toxic or not is only one of many parts of the recycling equation.

Recycle anything you can, period. And support the effort to expand recycling to as many consumer and industrial products as possible.

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21 andreejjs

It is scary that Piper is drinking his own Kool-aid. Must work for the company that is only thinking of the bottom line. Any way how is the carbon footprint worst for shipping alkaline and not for rechargeable batteries? The fact is clear that rechargeable batteries have a positive cash proposition and major companies do not have a problem supporting. However, since Green Box made it clear that it is not profitable to recycle alkaline batteries no company will make the effort to support especially if they have to pay for it.

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22 andreejjs

It is scary that Piper is drinking his own Kool-aid. Must work for the company that is only thinking of the bottom line. Any way how is the carbon footprint worst for shipping alkaline and not for rechargeable batteries? The fact is clear that rechargeable batteries have a positive cash proposition and major companies do not have a problem supporting. However, since Green Box made it clear that it is not profitable to recycle alkaline batteries no company will make the effort to support especially if they have to pay for it.

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23 batteries

Its now become necessary for everyone to take care of the environment.As far as alkaline battery’s concern they are still hazard for living on the earth even if it doesn’t contain mercury in it.It contains chemicals like potassium hydroxide and zinc. Both are not safe for environment and human beings.Now as the people are aware about this thing it is good that they recycle them properly.

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24 Brett

I just thought you should know that Longs Drugs DID accept and recycle Alkaline batteries for consumers. BUT, since Longs was purchase by CVS/pharmacy, CVS does NOT. A real blow to consumers who are now left out in the cold with no friendly place to recycle their exhausted household batteries. -Cheers!

Thanks for your part in fighting the Good Fight.

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25 shawna

do we really need batteries?

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26 Dave

Hi Will, I was researching for a similar Big Green Box initiative in the UK and came across an article in The Independent which you will approve. I’m surprised that battery recycling has only started this month! In the UK it is called ‘Be Positive’, and you can see recycling facilities in ‘shops that sells more than 4 packets of batteries each day’. This is a welcome change, albeit long overdue. Hopefully the rest of the world can follow.

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27 CJ

The EPA released a statement that Alkaline Batteries are no longer considered hazardous waste…hence, you can safely throw them away in your household garbage without any problem.

The reason why places like Batteries Plus cannot accept them is for that very reason, most recycling companies do not accept them, therefore, the middle-man cannot accept them. Batteries Plus (as well as other such stores) are considered recycling centers and are held under different regulations than households.

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28 Joe

I’m so freakin’ confused!! I’m a big recycler and composter. I’ve been recycling alkalines for 10 years. Now I can’t find anywhere to recycle them anymore. That, plus some comments here (as well as info on other websites) tell me I’m wasting my time and may as well just toss them in the trash.

And no, I’m not gonna spend $65 to send them in a green box to a company I don’t know (who may just toss them as well, and pocket the cash).

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29 Edina

The UK now has more battery recycling containers than it knows what to do with! They’re in tons of shops now which is absolutely fantastic! I took a pile of old ones we’d saved up and got rid of them! Was so much less hassle than havng to take them to the tip!

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30 Will

Hi Edina – I wonder why this is so much more available in the UK than it is in the US?

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31 Edina

It’s only very recently it’s happened!
For years we’ve been moaning that whilst we can recycle virtually everything (Apart from wrapping plastic and some food containers… and probably a few other bits and bobs) you couldn’t recycle batteries without going to the tip a few miles away. Which I always felt would be a waste of time and petrol for just a few.
Stores have to sell over so many batteries a year and then by law they have to have a recycling bucket. They vary from 12″ diameter buckets to 3″ tall containers depending on the size of the store.
I’m not sure that many people know about it – but I do try to mention it to people when I see them emptying batteries out of cameras etc.
Why the difference? The EU is about to fine councils for the landfill they use if they use too much, so there’s abeen a hurry to recycle more. But they should have started with the bulky stuff like polystyrene which can be recycled but only at one place in my region.
I like to think they rake through stuff and sort it before putting it in landfill but I suspect the volumes are just too great without a proper sorting plant.
There are vast differences across the UK regards recycling on the doorstep, but the batteries is UK wide. It might even be EU wide I’m not sure.
Some local councils in the UK give away compost made from recycling food and garden waste! I only just found out about that! Sadly my council doesn’t!

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32 Will

Thanks Edina! A lot of the good things start in Europe.

Bits and bobs eh? The British version of the American Odds n Ends? ;-)

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33 Edina

It will be the same yes! In the UK we also say “odds and sods” sometimes too.
:)

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34 Will

Now that one I have heard of!
Odds & Sods

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35 Edina

LOL ! I’m not familiar with that! I shall add it to my list!

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36 Nathan

I have been sending my used batteries to a company called AtBatt.com. They don`t charge to take them back, all you have to pay is the postage to get them there. Their web address is http://www.atbatt.com/battery_recycling.asp

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37 jack bradbury

Hi gang.
Alkaline batteries do need to be recycled. They currently are responsible for 50 to 70% of all heavy metals found in landfills. A blind eye is turned to them because of the cost involved. Even the “box” solution is pretty steep. My company recycles alkaline and charges .65 a pound; that’s half or less than half of the box option. We charge this to businesses and have been accepting at no charge from residents. Although it’s not a money maker, it is the responsible thing to do. There are also a number of businesses and municipalities that participate in alkaline recycling in Puget Sound. You can find them on our website: http://www.allbatterysalesandservice.com

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38 Gwen

There is too much information on how to recycle alkaline batteries. The only problem, I have not seen where I can actually recycle them for cash. Where do they go? Who gets the old batteries? There must be some money made here and that is what I am looking for at the moment. I have a huge bag full of old batteries, probably 20lbs. I refuse to throw them in the trash. I want to know where I can recycle them for cash. Any suggestion? (I live in the South, USA)

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39 jack bradbury

Gwen,
doubtful you’ll find someone to buy your alkaline batteries. Reason why? They actually cost money to responsibly recycle. We collect 180,000 pounds a year of alkaline batteries and pay to have them responsibly recycled. Generally businesses pay to have alkaline taken care of and residential users have some options where they can recycle without paying. Going to earth911.com and typing in your zip code and “single use batteries” will show you people who will take them. Call them first to make sure they recycle them (as opposed to throwing in the dumpster) and that they won’t charge you.

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40 Susan GB

THANK YOU!!! And, Portland has Recology. They accept styrofoam!!!!

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