Batteries. Those small, yet mighty sources of energy which we use to power cars, tools, mobile phones, toys and laptops. What would we do without them? Or perhaps the real question should be, what do we do with them once they’ve run out of energy? Most people will respond to this question with the obvious answer: we throw them away into the bin, of course! But do we ever stop to think about where those batteries then end up once they’re out of sight? The fact of the matter is that very few people are aware of the harmful consequences which arise from throwing away batteries in this mindless manner. Even fewer people are aware of battery recycling and how important it is to reduce the environmental impact of batteries.
We use batteries in many areas of our households and businesses. Due to their long lifetime, we find ourselves rarely throwing away batteries throughout the year. This is perhaps the reason for why we don’t think it’s that important to recycle batteries in comparison to other waste such as paper or plastic. But try to think of it this way. Imagine if every single person in the world adopted that same mindset. I’m just one person throwing away a battery, so it’s hardly going to have an effect on the environment. Well that seems to be exactly the case right now. Every person in the UK uses about 10 batteries per year, which quickly accumulates to a national figure of about 620 million batteries being thrown away annually. This figure is shocking and emphasises the importance of individuals taking responsibility to recycle batteries.
How do batteries harm the environment?
When batteries are disposed of as solid waste and put into rubbish bins, they are taken to landfill sites. Batteries contain several heavy metals and toxic chemicals including lead, cadmium, zinc, lithium and mercury. When these batteries lay in landfill sites, they are left untreated, which leads to water pollution and soil contamination. There are devastating effects on the environment as plants and animals can be killed by the toxic chemicals and metals. Moreover, there are huge amounts of CO2 emissions which result from throwing away batteries. If the UK recycled at least 45% of batteries, 12,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions could be avoided. These figures only emphasise the huge scale of the lack of battery recycling. Moreover, throwing away batteries into your wheelie bins at home can be extremely dangerous. This is because they are a fire risk and contain hazardous materials.
What is battery recycling?
By now you may be wondering what exactly happens to batteries when they are recycled. When batteries are placed in a recycling bin, they are later deconstructed, and the left-over materials are used to create something new. Compliance schemes, such as Valpak which works in partnership with Ecobat Logistics, collect boxes of used batteries. The batteries are then sorted according to the metals they are made of (such as lithium-ion, nickel cadmium and zinc). The main aim in battery recycling is to recover the raw material which was used to make the batteries so that it can be reused to create something new. For example, nickel cadmium batteries which are commonly used in power tools are deconstructed to obtain nickel, steel and cadmium. These materials are then reconstructed in metal plating, in the steel industry and they may also be used to create new batteries. There is a plethora of new products which are constructed from the new materials according to the type of battery from which they were obtained.
How do I recycle batteries?
Now that you’ve been informed of how batteries are recycled you will be questioning how to recycle them as it isn’t as common as other forms of recycling. You may notice that most shops and supermarkets that sell batteries have collection bins in-store for used batteries. Moreover, some libraries, town halls and even schools have set up collection schemes. Alternatively, you can take batteries to many Household Waste Recycling Centres. You can type your postcode into the recycle-more recycling locator to find out where to take your batteries.
Hopefully this article has been insightful and given you the motivation to begin recycling batteries. It may seem like such a simple step, but as stated previously, the national effects on the environment can be immense. As a small side note, you may want to consider investing in rechargeable batteries as an alternative. They can be reused, which can help you save money and you will also produce less waste so you can reduce harmful effects on the environment. Together, we can work towards creating a brighter and greener future for generations to come.