Discarding batteries along with the rest of your trash poses several environmental concerns. Depending on the type, batteries can contain several dangerous heavy metals including mercury and lead which will eventually leak into the soil and groundwater. Incinerating batteries only releases some toxins into the air and concentrates the others in ash. Though the need for a better disposal system is clear, the federal government has set few standards. Though not always required by law, there is an ideal disposal method for each battery type.
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Rechargeable batteries are most often found in laptops, cell phones and other small electronic devices. Since 1996, the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act has required that manufacturers make these batteries easily removable from the rest of the device and that they be labelled as recyclable. A quick check of the local phone book or Internet search by zip code should be all you need to do in order to find a battery recycling centre in your area where you can drop off used batteries. These establishments will determine whether the batteries should be recycled or sent to a hazardous waste landfill.
The most commonly used and inexpensive battery, alkaline batteries are the least environmentally harmful. Most manufacturers have greatly reduced or completely removed mercury from these household batteries. If the packaging states that the batteries you purchased are low mercury or "no mercury added" you can safely dispose of them with the rest of your trash; this includes rechargeable alkaline batteries. When buying alkaline batteries in the future try to choose those that have the lowest levels of mercury. If you are unsure whether there is mercury present in a used alkaline battery take it to a battery recycling centre where they will be able to determine the proper disposal method.
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead acid batteries are used in automotive and other engines to run electrical components. Nearly all businesses that sell replacement automotive batteries will take the exhausted battery. The used batteries are recycled so that new lead acid batteries typically contain between 60 and 80 per cent reclaimed material.
The flat, button-shaped batteries typically used in small electronics like hearing aids and watches likely contain significant amounts of mercury or other heavy metals and are therefore considered hazardous waste. Though they are not usually recyclable, you can take them to a battery recycling centre or directly to a hazardous waste landfill. Do not dispose of them in your normal trash.
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