Stephen O'Shea asks: My high school has been collecting a large quantity of used household batteries with the intention of having them recycled. But when I contacted the local recycling agencies they said these types of batteries are just considered trash. Before I dump them in the trash do you know anymore about this?
Manna Jo Greene replies:
Rechargeables need to be recycled: Nickel Cadmium and Ni Metal Hydride batteries are made with heavy metals.
In early '90s I served on New York State Battery Task Force and we (collectively those working on battery issues) got the industry to stop using mercury in alkaline (single-use AAA, AA, A, C & D) batteries as an antioxidant (Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act of 1996). So these batteries are not toxic per se, but do contain a metal (steel) casing and can technically be recycled with scrap metal if you have a metal can full of them, but be careful they are fully discharged. Also, do not close storage container tightly as they can give off some hydrogen. Most people just put these safely into the trash.
It's lead, NiCd, NiMH, and lithium batteries that are toxic. Mercuric oxide, rare specialty batteries, are not used by general public, but must be recycled. Zinc air and silver oxide are substitutes.
Silver oxide batteries contain silver, a precious metal, and should be recycled and can easily be.
Lead acid batteries (auto) batteries must be recycled and there is a rebate (in N.Y.) when you trade them in.
Lithium batteries are highly reactive and should be recycled.
In summary, rechargeables and button cells can and should be recycled, single use can be tossed.
Manna Jo Greene is the environmental director of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.
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