About a year ago I was listening to “The Office Ladies Podcast” where Jenna Fisher and Angela Kinsey were playing a guessing game. Each took a turn guessing how long it takes for certain items to decompose in a landfill.
Angela asks Jenna, how long does it take for batteries to decompose? Jenna responds with, “Aren’t we not supposed to even throw those away?”
Angela replies, “100 years”
The podcasters didn’t specify what kind of batteries but since they were talking about the average American household, I think its safe to assume that they were talking about household batteries, like AA and AAA batteries. I can’t tell you how many times I have thrown away empty batteries in my lifetime. And if that is the case, I am certain our landfills are filled up with innumerable abouts of lithium batteries.
Let’s take a closer look as to why its important to recycle lithium batteries, even if they are as insignificant as the AA battery.
Chemistry and Environmental Impacts
Batteries work by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. The opposite ends of a battery—the anode and the cathode—create an electrical circuit with the help of chemicals called electrolytes that send electrical energy to a device such as a cell phone when the device is plugged into the battery.
Battery components differ depending on the battery itself, but the general chemicals used to create these tiny power cells include cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, lithium and electrolytes. When a battery decomposes in a landfill, the casing corrodes. Then, the chemicals leach into the soil and making it possible for those same chemicals to infect the local water supply. If that happens, those same chemicals can reach the ocean. Lithium that leaches into the soil can cause landfill fires that can burn underground for years. This releases toxic chemicals into the air, which increases the potential for human exposure.
Human Health Risks
Cadmium and nickel are known as human carcinogens. Lead has been linked to birth defects and to neurological and developmental damage. Mercury is also highly toxic, especially in vapor form, which is why the government banned its use in batteries in 1996. Negligible amounts of mercury traceable to other materials used in the manufacture of batteries may still occur, but they don't present a threat to human health. All these chemicals can be found in simple Lithium batteries and if we don’t take measures to properly dispose of these batteries, millions of people can be exposed, leading to mass suffering that could have been easily prevented.
Steps to Recycling
Taking the time to recycle old batteries doesn’t have to be difficult or inconvenient. There are a lot of easy and accessible options for homeowners to take when the time comes to throw away their old batteries.
· New cell phones are usually packaged with mailers so that consumers can return their old phones for recycling.
· National recycling programs like Call2Recycle, accept used rechargeable batteries as a public service.
· Lead-acid batteries, the kind used in cars, can be recycled through local or state hazardous waste programs. Most automotive supply stores will accept old car batteries to send to the proper recycling authorities.
If you still aren’t sure what to do with your batteries, a simple Google search, or a phone call to your local recycling plant can give you all the information you need to take care of your trashed batteries.