Your Trusted Battery Recycling Partner

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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 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.

"Battery collection"

Upcycling Isn't as Easy as it Looks

I started getting this idea a long time ago that I could make clever items out of existing things, especially disposable packaging.. My first real upcycling project was a wedding clock made out of a license plate in 1984 for a work colleague. I cut out the numbers with a Dremel tool and used Bondo to make the letters for Teri + Greg, and back in the day, Texas had little stickers for the lower corners for the registration/inspection dates, so I painted in their wedding date to look like one of the stickers. They liked it, I think. Hmmm, I imagine calling them to see if they still have it—awkward…

Before 911, I found a server computer outside in a parking lot. Seriously! It had a half dozen circuit boards that were all the same size, and translucent. I thought they might be a nice shade for a lamp, and they really cast a nice green glow. I bought some wood angle molding and tapered the ends to fashion 4 legs for a lamp, cut a piece of clear Plexiglas to sit near the bottom of the shade to support the light fixture after drilling some holes for the light socket and the pull chain. Interestingly, I found out later that not all circuit boards are translucent, which is what is so magical about these. The plex support was scrap since I used plex for various other projects, however I bought the socket and light bulb, (although, it was a compact fluorescent) and didn’t think much about reusing everything. That evolved.

Meanwhile, these pieces are one-offs. Can you imagine trying to establish a product line based on upcycling things? You’ve probably seen some—I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s a few more layers of the onion with product safety laws and etc.

About this same time, a friend of mine saved up some special-edition Pepsi Cans, challenging me to make a lamp out of them. This would marinate with me for a few years. It came to mind to poke some holes in them with a pin or something, but I didn’t know what kind of a base I would use. I bought a neon “skewer” from Electronic Parts Outlet on Fondren and then realized I had to use a Dremel tool with a high speed diamond grinder bit to drill the holes as a pin would crush the can. Finally, the TV rabbit ears I had stashed in the attic hit me as “the base,” and I didn’t need any fasteners or glue. Maybe some day I’ll hide the wires.

Another neat upcycling project of mines is this lamp from this year, and I had been saving the 6-pack rings for a while. Most of them were from St. Arnolds beers, courtesy of college age offspring and their parties. I did have to buy a couple myself to get the last few colors to round out the rainbow effect, skipping Indigo. I hot-glued cut pieces of drinking straws to space them apart, using slightly longer pieces to space them in a sloping fashion. The lights are salvaged from actual sign letters, now deploying LED’s instead of the old-school neon. My GBRC sign below kindly photographed by Jim Olive, is made up of these salvaged sign letters kindly donated by artist Kiki Neumann. I happened to have a few old charging transformers, which worked perfectly, and I glued them to some chopsticks, which was also deployed as a frame for the base. Beer can pop tops made up the tapered legs, which I had to glue with two-part epoxy. Luckily, they are somewhat malleable and I was able to bend some in my vise to act as the corners of the legs, gluing them to the chopsticks that I notched and glued together. The outstanding part of this composition is the only thing that was new is the glue. Everything else was salvaged and reused from something designed for some other use.

And this reuse idea is a bit of a constraint. This lamp, for instance, is as wide and as deep as it is because of the size of the 6-pack rings. The various materials are sometimes tough to connect, join, or glue. I’ll have some other pieces that show how tough working with some items can be. Cheers!

To be continued…

What to Look for in a Consumer Recycling News Story

Recycling stories are present everywhere in the world of the internet, and I am starting to notice that some are better than others.  And some are worse.  I’ve developed a set of typologies, just for the heck of it, to give myself some structure, based on the Seven Sins of Greenwashing that was an internet thing a few years ago.

First: Read this environmental news story:

You’ll notice the classic Set Up:  In a remote wilderness location a HUGE number of small every-day waste items appears due to insidious disposal habits.  Toothbrushes are a perfect topic!  In the Set Up there might be a: To Make It Worse item like this one: For good health one must use A LOT of these disposable items.  I have noticed that dentists and especially their dental assistants push toothbrush replacement and give them away like candy.

Next is the list of Factoids about the item: It’s a mixture of materials that are impossible to separate and recycle effectively.  This is typically a hook for ‘true recyclers’ to get us thinking.  But often we run into a Related Distraction like this one: a option for you to pay to mail some otherwise un-recyclable items on an individual basis because you are smart and care and were simply not aware of this opportunity!  This is a burn for me, as it clarifies that single stream recycling is just for the basics, and that anything like toothbrushes is contamination for single stream and must be dealt with on your own and at your expense!

No self-respecting author would miss explaining the obligatory ReUse OptionReuse toothbrushes for cleaning things.  I guess there are people who don’t try to reuse things, but I doubt they are taking the time to read this article!  Reusers like me reuse toothbrushes for cleaning stuff all the time.  Still, it just delays sending them to the landfill.

Then we’ll see the inevitable list of Better ChoicesProducts are described listing their attributes and drawbacks (like bamboo toothbrushes), and there’s always a drawback, not the least of which is higher price or some additional effort required.  I guess one could trim off the nylon bristles in a bamboo toothbrushes into the trash, and then compost the handle and it would only have a tiny bit of plastic just hanging around in the soil for years, which is good but not great. I compost at home, but my city does not pick up food waste nor offer a food waste drop off location. So, hooray for me, but other readers are left in the lurch. 

Which brings up the Not Mentioned Drawback:  Compostable alternatives are not helpful when composting is not an option.  Worse than the bamboo toothbrush is the compostable clamshell for takeout food. I compost mine, but what about the vast majority of folks who don’t compost?  Has everyone heard that the landfill doesn’t exactly decompose biodegradable material very well?  As in the landfill researchers from National Geographic who dug up 50 year old newspapers and read them?  Bananas that are still bananas?  Obviously, something biodegrades because we are all blest with methane venting from landfills, which are a big mess and very few people know the full backstory because it would cause a lot of discomfort if everyone knew.

Now we need to be on guard for Worse Choices disguised as better choices: Something more complicated with a ‘reusable side’ (electric toothbrushes), with undisclosed inevitable disposal issues.  Please!  What a terrible idea to suggest a more complicated, harder to recycle item than an electronic version of the very plastic thing we are trying to avoid!  Not to mention that the toothbrush attachment is disposable plastic and needs to be replaced just as frequently as the low-tech version.  And we might also find an Off Topic Problem: Consumer rechargeable batteries!  These are recyclable in VERY FEW MARKETS. Or you can pay to ship them to be recycled (which CAN happen), currently at about a dollar per pound.  This should be its own article, because battery materials are very recyclable, the industry just doesn’t want to do it.

Keep your eyes open for a Subsequent Related DistractionAs if making your own toothpaste solves the toothbrush problem. BTW, my dentist says baking soda is terrible for teeth.

More often than not, at the end of the article we end up with No Real Conclusions: Yep, that was the end of the story.  Nothing about Extended Producer Responsibility (where manufacturers contribute financially to a better disposal option).  No summary review of the suggestions for the “optimal choice”.  No observation of other countries solutions, which are very often more advanced than ours.  Many articles like this are unfulfilling for the folks who understand the gravity of the situation.  And they don’t educate the ‘newbie’ all that well.

Another issue often not addressed is the issue of ScaleToothbrushes are like straws, or plastic cutlery, or clamshells, and on and on.  What ubiquitous item do you want to take on today?  These articles serve a purpose to zoom in on one item, but when you zoom back out and see the scale of the problem, then what difference does a couple of hundred thousand toothbrushes really make?  By 2050 the oceans will have more plastic than fish.  If that isn’t chilling, I don’t know what is. Please make sure your toothbrush goes in the ground ladies and gentlemen!

You might be wondering if you should believe any article about things like this.  Of course you should take it with a grain of salt.  Be skeptical.  Add it to your mental portfolio and compare to others you read.  Articles like this are legion!  Use the tags above to analyze the article.  And clearly, most of these conundrums do NOT have solutions!  There are lots of perceived solutions, some solutions that work for some people, and some that would work if people would just think like you do!  Some would work if the manufacturers would change their product design (Anyone heard of the book Cradle to Cradle?)  So the writer hedged!  Situation normal.  It’s beyond your control.  Go back to whatever you were doing.

You might have to read enough of these articles to begin to see the typology I addressed.  At first these stories pique your awareness and you derive insight.  Then time passes and you test hypotheses, and nothing really improved.  You read another article and you start seeing that these authors are doing the best they can, given the information they uncovered.  Still, the answers remain unfulfilling.  Then you might read a few books on the subject and hear from other authorities, and you might know more about the topic than the writer appears to know.  Two suggestions to up your game:  Go to YouTube and watch the 19 minute “Story of Stuff.”  Annie Leonard is a genius. In addition, a recent and thoughtful book is Inconspicuous Consumption: the Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have, by Tatiana Schlossberg (a granddaughter of JFK).  Oh, and there are more books.  I have a long booklist…

Meanwhile, what is the best solution at the moment that yours truly, Mr. Critic, has to offer?  Surprise!  It’s one of the Related Distractions!  Unfortunately, it’s the best option until we evolve: get a box from and start a community effort to collect the toothbrushes and send them off to be recycled. will do it right.  I’ll be doing that since I opened my big mouth.  I have a “Razors & Blades” box here at the GBRC, and you are welcome to drop by with your disposable razors and drop them in it.  Soon I’ll have a toothbrush box next to it.

By 2050 the oceans will have more plastic than fish.  If that isn’t chilling, I don’t know what is.  So make sure your toothbrush goes in the ground ladies and gentlemen!