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Batteries require MUCH more energy during production than they are able to store. In addition, batteries are hard to recycle. It is best to use rechargeable batteries or, even better, to try not to use batteries at all! A battery tester can help determine if your batteries are completely spent. A tester would be particularly useful for offices or groups that use many batteries.

Each year billions of used batteries are thrown away in the United States. This constitutes 88% of the mercury and 54% of the cadmium deposited into our landfills.

Heavy Metals in Batteries

Batteries contain lead, mercury and cadmium, with smaller amounts of antimony, lithium, cobalt, silver, zinc and other chemicals. Some of these can cause serious pollution problems. Cadmium, for example, does not degrade and cannot be destroyed and unless it is deposited in secure waste disposal sites it can get into the food chain, where it affects all environmental sectors and can damage livers, kidneys and the brains of humans and fish. Mercury too cannot be destroyed; it contaminates by inhalation or skin contact and lodges in the kidneys and liver. Lead leads to brain damage, hemolysis, lowered resistance to infection and cancer of the lungs and kidneys.

There are well established systems for reclaiming lead acid batteries, used in cars and vehicles, at garages, although a number are still finding their way into the domestic garbage collections. Dry cell batteries (the ones you think of when you hear the word battery) make up the rest of the domestic market. They are more numerous, varied and have a complex make-up. Batteries are manufactured by such a wide range of companies and come in so many shapes and colors that sorting them for effective collection and recycling schemes remains a problem.

Types of Depositable Batteries

Types of Rechargeable Batteries

1. Nickel cadmium: rechargeable batteries. One of the fastest growing sectors in the battery market. Used for cordless power tools, personal stereos, portable telephones, lap-top computers, shavers, motorized toys etc, with a life of 4-5 years.

2. Nickel Metal Hydride and Lithium Ion: an environmentally friendlier alternative to Nickel Cadmium, with a longer lifespan.

This picture shows a solar battery recharger. If you need to use batteries, use rechargeables. Even better is avoiding batteries all together.

In some countries such as Japan, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, batteries are collected separately from other domestic refuse and are disposed of as hazardous waste. In spite of various nickel cadmium battery recycling laws in Sweden and Switzerland, and collection schemes in Germany, Holland and parts of the USA, there are still very few reprocessing facilities.

At Tufts, we try to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to recycle batteries properly in the many battery drop bins located around campus.

Don’t forget to tape up the ends of your batteries, it’s super quick and makes a big difference!

Blog posts about batteries and electronics!