Americans buy nearly three billion household batteries annually to provide power on-the-go. That works out to about 32 batteries per family. Not including cell phone and laptop-type batteries, the average person owns about ten A, AA, AAA, C, D, or 9V batteries plus two button batteries, and discards about eight batteries a year. The amount of batteries that reach landfills each year is equal in weight to almost 6,000,000 desktop computers.
Batteries are made with a variety of materials, but they all contain an electrolyte and heavy metal that combine to produce power. Mercury, cadmium, lead, and nickel are common heavy metals found in some batteries. Batteries make up less than one percent of our municipal solid waste, but proportionately, the amount of toxic heavy metals they contribute is much higher. In 1995 nickel cadmium (Nicad) batteries accounted for three quarters of the cadmium found in municipal solid waste. Sixty-five percent of the lead came from small sealed lead-acid (SSLA) batteries. Mercury was once an important component in the most widely used alkaline and carbon zinc batteries but since the 1980s battery manufacturers have reduced their use of mercury by more than 98 percent.
Approximately 73 percent of US municipal solid waste ends up incinerated or landfilled. When trashed, heavy metals can leach into the soil, ground and surface water from landfills or into the air. During incineration, these same heavy metals make their way into the food chain. If heavy metals are ingested or inhaled through water, food or air, potential health risks include headaches, stomach discomfort, comas and seizures. Cadmium and several other heavy metals are also carcinogens.
Nearly one in five household batteries sold in this country is rechargeable, adding up to more than 350 million rechargeable batteries purchased each year. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) estimates that the call for rechargeable batteries is growing twice as fast as demand for disposables. Since it began in 1994, the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), a nonprofit, industry sponsored organization that facilitates the recycling of rechargeable batteries through 30,000 drop-off locations, has recycled more than 31 million pounds of rechargeable batteries, which is equal to the weight of almost 8,700 cars.
- Environment, Health and Safety Online, Battery Recycling and Disposal Guide for Households
- Green Batteries
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Municipal Solid Waste - Batteries
- Environment, Health and Safety Online - Battery Recycling and Disposal Guide for Households
- Ideal Bite - How full is your AA cup?
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Product Stewardship - Batteries
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Enforcement Alert, The Battery Act
- Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation - Overview