I was shocked to find out that there are 15 billion batteries produced every year worldwide. You can bet that number will grow exponentially as our addiction to gadgets grows. Americans annually use up an average of eight batteries per person. I think I go through eight AA batteries in just my wireless key board and mouse each year. Then there is the TV remote(s), the battery powered toothbrush, my Blackberry, camera, flip cam, flashlights, smoke detectors, bicycle lights – need I go on?
Batteries are not only ubiquitous, they are a dirty business. They are manufactured with heavy metals and toxic chemicals -- dangerous substances like lead, arsenic, zinc, cadmium, copper, mercury and acid. Once we are done with them, they are often thrown away in household trash. When discarded batteries from our trash wind up in landfills, they can pollute our water supply or if an incinerator is their fate, they can pollute our air.
We can’t give up our gadgets or go back to pre-battery gadgets, so follow these simple guidelines to help make your battery power greener and cleaner:
Buy rechargeable batteries. Instead of purchasing disposable alkaline batteries over and over again, consider purchasing a set of rechargeable NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries to save money, resources and go through fewer batteries. Rechargeable batteries have come down in price in the past few years and come in all the common sizes – AA, AAA, C, D, and 9 volt.
Even though they still cost more up front, they’ll quickly pay for themselves the more you use them. To put a finer point on the money savings: a 50 cent AA alkaline battery will give you about 90 pictures in a digital camera but a $2.50 NiMH rechargeable battery will give you about 90,000 pictures. The difference is in the fact that you cannot recharge an alkaline battery but you can recharge a NiMH battery 500 times. Of course the charger will cost a few bucks but it is well worth it.
Get Greener Gadgets. Better yet, buy a camera that doesn’t require battery replacement. Many newer cameras have a rechargeable battery that can be recharged like a cell phone. There will be no batteries to get rid of and you can charge your camera on the go with a solar charger if you run out of juice in a remote location. There are other newer gadgets too that are designed to be rechargeable i.e. plug-in television remote controls or rechargeable flashlights with long life LEDs.
Every battery that is rechargeable, including those that come with the gadget, will have a certain amount of recharge cycles. But just because you have used your last recharge cycle, doesn’t mean that the entire gadget has to be tossed. You can often find a new battery for your gadget from the manufacturer or through a full service battery retailer like Batteries Plus. I was talking with Mike Criego owner of several Batteries Plus stores and he told me that you can also “re-load” exhausted rechargeable batteries for gadgets like cordless drills and weedwackers at a fraction of the cost to buy new. The other green benefit is that it keeps those worn out gadgets in service, rather than all of the plastic and metal of a weedwacker ending up in a landfill somewhere.
Recycle your old batteries. I’ve always been confused about what to do with batteries when they are used up. To throw, recycle or bring somewhere is the question. I collect old batteries in a jar in my garage. When I get enough of them, I bring them into a retail location like Best Buy, Radio Shack or Batteries Plus. These retailers have recycle battery kiosks now and will take and recycle any kind of battery.
One word of caution when recycling used up batteries: the batteries likely still contain enough of a charge to start a fire if the positive from one battery comes in contact with the negative of another. So tape off the area where the connection is made when you take the battery out of the gadget.
Throwing out old batteries in the trash is never a good idea because it can create toxic waste. Although dead batteries may be no longer of use to you, recycling companies can use their components to supply manufacturers with recycled materials instead of taking from the earth’s resources. To find out how and where to recycle your batteries and electronics www.rethinkrecycling.com or http://www.rethinkrecycling.com/businesses/waste-management-guide/materials-name/batteries .
Watch KSPT Twin Cities Live television segment with Kim on the subject of "greener batteries".