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

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