Interestingly, I used to take batteries collected here at our LEED certified Houston Permitting Center (where we recycle all the basics) to Batteries Plus on Richmond until they closed that location. When I called their office, I found out they were not really interested in single-use batteries, only reusable batteries. That’s good because reusable batteries need to be recycled instead of landfilled. However, we have a LOT of single-use batteries dropped off here by our employees. They intuitively know these batteries should be diverted from the landfill as well, so I needed another recycling provider.
My Alkaline Theory
Single-use alkaline batteries are the most common. Now the waste industry wants you to throw them in the trash so they don’t have to deal with them. I read a story about how recyclable alkaline batteries could be, since 25% of a battery is steel, 60% is zinc, manganese, and potassium which can be utilized in fertilizer, and only 15% is problematic and might not have a reusable option. Then I watched a great Curiosity Quest video of a battery recycling facility (one of a handful in the country), and this is worth a view as it’s really interesting. Fun fact: Americans go through 3 billion dry-cell batteries annually.
The takeaway is that the single-use alkaline batteries are designed for the landfill, and the rechargeable batteries are designed to be recycled. Garbage truck fires are more common than you might think because of lithium batteries.
The variety of battery shapes, sizes, and material content is staggering. If you are curious just check out Wikipedia’s “List of battery sizes” page. They have pictures and links, and about everything you would want to know. The “you’re kidding me” part is what you need to do to ship batteries safely to these battery recycling facilities! The easiest thing to do is take your recyclable batteries to Home Depot and Lowe’s. But it’s easy for only three types: power tool battery packs, cell phone batteries, and laptop batteries. They don’t take single use that you have a zillion of. If you go to the internet, they say they take everything, which they might do 50 miles south of Houston or California.
So I looked into battery recycling contractors. They are not free. Home Depot is free, but they only take part of your load. You can ship batteries to Terracycle.com and the battery recycling facility in the YouTube, for a fee. Basically you order a pre-labeled container, fill it up per the instructions, and ship it back. And it’s at least $2.00 per pound to ship.
The ‘how to’ manual from our local contractor is daunting – all 23 pages. The good news is that cylindrical alkaline single-use batteries don’t need any separation or treatment – your D, C, AA, and AAA alkaline can just go in a bucket. But 9-Volt, Lanterns, buttons, rechargeables of any kind, all need some sort of taping separation to avoid sparking and fires.
The Future of reFresh
In the near future, we will be recycling batteries at our building again. We will have a Sorting Station so that our responsible battery recyclers can place their batteries by type in the various containers designed for that battery type. We have a Recycling Committee, and we will be in charge of the final sort and the taping, and calling the contractor to come by and pick up when we have enough to warrant a trip, which we pay for. It’s the right thing to do, with the most important part - keeping the hazardous metals out of the landfill.