|Buckets Full of Batteries at Batteries Plus|
Batteries create electricity through chemical reactions. Some of those chemicals would be toxic if released into the environment in an unsafe manner, so what should we do with batteries when they are out of juice? All batteries can be recycled, but recycling is more important for some kinds of batteries than for others.
A car battery, for instance, contains about 21 pounds of lead. As long as that lead stays inside the battery, it’s perfectly safe. But taking the battery apart without precautions can be extremely dangerous. In 2008 the World Health Organization reported an epidemic of lead poisoning in Dakar, Senegal, in a community that made its living by dismantling car batteries to salvage lead. Older children would help with the process, and younger ones would play in the dirt where the recycling was taking place, and like babies everywhere, they would eat dirt; dirt that was highly contaminated with lead. Eighteen children died and dozens more had potentially lethal blood levels of lead, a situation that can cause permanent brain damage. Unfortunately, this is only one of many examples of people in less developed countries being poisoned by improperly recycled lead-acid batteries.
Luckily in the United States, ninety-eight percent of automotive lead acid batteries are recycled, keeping toxic lead out of the environment. In fact it’s illegal in Texas to throw your car battery into the landfill.
Remember in 2010 when a lot of children’s jewelry imported from China was found to be heavily contaminated with cadmium? Cadmium is an essential element in a nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cad) rechargeable battery, where it is sealed up and safe to handle. But don’t let that cadmium get away because exposure to too much cadmium can cause kidney damage or even cancer.
Button cell batteries, the kind used for hearing aids, cameras, and watches, frequently contain up to 10 milligrams of mercury. No law prohibits throwing these batteries in the trash, but they should really be recycled to keep mercury out of our landfills.
You can’t put batteries into your single-stream recycling container, so I checked around and found a few good places where you can responsibly dispose of them when they finally burn out.
Matt Gann is the store manager at Batteries Plus, which is located beside the Round Rock Home Depot, just across IH 35 from La Frontera. Mr. Gann told me that he will accept (for free) car batteries, Ni-Cad batteries, and just about any other kind of batteries anybody wants to bring in, but not lithium ion batteries, which have a tendency to explode.
For $45, Batteries Plus can rebuild a worn out Ni-Cad battery for a cordless power tool so that it is as good as new. That’s about half the price you would pay for a new DeWalt battery. Mr. Gann will also take small quantities of alkaline cells, the familiar AA, AAA, and D cells that are so common in our toys and flashlights. Alkaline cells can be recycled to recover steel and zinc, but there is not much of a market for them, so if you bring in more than a sandwich bag, Batteries Plus will have to charge you a dollar a pound. Alkaline cells do not contain any toxic materials, so they can actually be thrown in the trash, and you don’t have to feel guilty.
The Hutto Recycling Center, between Hutto and Georgetown on Hwy 1660, will take all kinds of batteries, including lithium ion and alkaline cells, for free.
The Williamson County Recycle Center on county road 156 near Weir will take lithium ion, rechargeable, coin, and car batteries for free as well, but they charge $2 a pound to recycle alkaline cells.
Retailers that sell power tools are required to take back rechargeable batteries that have reached the end of their lives, so at Home Depot there is a big box near the service desk where you can dump your power tool batteries, assuming you don’t want to have them rebuilt at Batteries Plus. Don’t put alkaline cells in the Home Depot box because they will just get thrown away when the recycle truck comes.
For times of operation and questions about your specific batteries, contact Batteries Plus at 512 600-7800, the Hutto Recycling Center at 512 846-2756, or the Williamson County Recycle Center at 512 869-7287.