Today, most of our gadgets and some of our vehicles are battery operated and batteries have become an integral aspect of our lives. Our communication devices, kitchen appliances, power-back ups, hand-operated tools and a host of other equipments work on batteries. They’ve revolutionized the way we work and boosted productivity enormously. Businesses have grown and communication has boomed across continents aided by these alternate power sources.
Common Uses and Composition
Studies show that an average American in the United States owns at least two button batteries, ten disposable alkaline batteries and disposes about eight household batteries a year.
- Alkaline: flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, smoke-alarms, remote-controls
- Button: watches, greeting-cards, toys, remote-controls, hearing-aids
- Carbon-zinc: flashlights, calculators, transistor-radios, garage-door openers
- Silver Oxide (contain mercury): medical devices, watches, toys
- Lithium ion: Cameras, computer-memory back-up
- Nickel-cadmium (rechargeable)/Nickel-metal-hydride/Alkaline manganese: flashlights, toys, cell-phones, power-tools, computer-packs
- Sealed Lead Acid: Video-cameras, power-tools, wheelchairs, ATVs, metal-detectors
- Lead Acid Vehicle: cars, trucks, motor-cycles, golf-carts, UPS batteries, forklifts and commercial batteries
There are serious environmental concerns regarding batteries. They are composed of toxic metals and corrosive chemicals that help to produce electricity. Once the battery’s life is over, it becomes ineffective and must be discarded or reconditioned.
Disposal of batteries has a huge negative impact on the environment. Toxic or heavy metals and corrosive chemicals in batteries can leach into the ground, contaminate the soil and pollute ground-water, creating major damage and destruction of life in the area. Vehicle batteries are typically made of lead plates and sulfuric acid which are both extremely toxic. Rechargeable batteries contain nickel-cadmium which can seep into ground-water sources. Other batteries may contain nickel-metal-hydride which is again highly hazardous. Concerns also include the impact on global warming and human health.
Exposure to toxic amounts of lead from lead-acid batteries causes liver and kidney damage, hearing impairment and mental retardation in children.
In most countries, laws have now made it illegal to dispose of batteries in the normal garbage/trash bin. They should not be disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Toxic materials are leached into the soil from landfills while incinerators release poisonous fumes into the atmosphere.
Agencies and individuals can collect used batteries and recycle each component in the battery so that no hazards are posed to human, plant and animal health. A small sum of money is paid to people who give their old batteries for recycling. Common methods of collection include curb-side collection, retail drop-off, community drop-off, postal collections, hospital and fire-station collections.
The metals contained in batteries can be recovered and made into other products while elements like cadmium can be returned to battery manufacturers. Recycling creates a safe closed loop system. It saves natural resources and energy, reduces pollution and the need for landfills, generates income, reduces imports and lessens the amount of regulations required regarding waste-disposal.
In general, all types of batteries can be recycled including AAA, AA, C, D, watch, button, hearing-aid or car batteries. Leaking or damaged batteries are extremely hazardous and must be sealed in ziploc bags before they are handled.
Recycling and refurbishing old batteries certainly prevents the release of toxic wastes into the environment. However certain aspects of recycling have to be understood.
There are significant transportation and fuel-related costs which can impact the cost of the final recycled product:
- Proper sorting into chemical classes has to be done
- Significant amounts of energy are required for recycling processes
- Reclaiming metals from batteries is a laborious and expensive process
- Sulfur dioxide may be a bi-product of recycling which is itself environmentally hazardous
- Explosions are another risk during recycling
- Fire is a big safety hazard during recycling
- If moisture seeps into corroding batteries, fire can result
- If terminals come into contact with each other in typical recycling bins, fire can result
- When batteries are packed in ziplocs or terminals are taped, this adds to the problem of waste-generation
- The current boom in production of lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles poses risks associated with lithium mining and battery life-cyclesIndividuals who may be at risk during the processes include waste-handlers, recycling workers and those exposed to chemicals during any stage of the collection, transportation and recycling process
With batteries being such a huge part of our lives, it’s important that they are safely disposed of once their life is over. Prevention of exposure to toxic materials contained in batteries is a huge concern. Recycling and reuse presents the most economical and effective method of handling used batteries. However, safe and efficient methods of recycling should be practiced for best results.
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