Mercury (Batteries) Rising
Whew – it’s been one hot summer! Let’s talk about another “hot topic”: mercury. Specifically, batteries that contain mercury. In this issue, we’re doing a deep dive into batteries (all kinds!) and what to do when you’re finished with them.
First rule — NEVER put batteries of any kind in your household recycling bin. While they do contain metal, some batteries pose serious risks and lead to explosions and fires in trucks and at recycling facilities.
So how do you responsibly dispose of batteries? That depends on the battery chemistry.
Traditional single-use batteries (they can’t be re-charged) are the easiest. These are your AA, AAA, C, D and 9 volt batteries and their “chemistry” is either alkaline or lithium (not to be confused with lithium-ion, which is a whole different animal!). Both alkaline and lithium batteries that look like what’s pictured here are safe to throw in the trash.
Button-cell batteries are found in watches, hearing aids, toys, and other small portable devices. Since 2017, most manufacturers no longer add mercury to button cell batteries but because they are long-lived, many are still in circulation. Check the label for “Hg” which means they have mercury. Mercury is hazardous and should be disposed at a mercury collection point. Click here to find a drop-off site or call your municipal Board of Health.
Lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries are rechargeable and are considered the backbone of mobile electronics (cell phones, laptops) and cordless power tools. They do not contain mercury but they are on the trash and recycling industry’s “most unwanted” list because the risk of fire is so high. Click here for a recycling location. Click here for more info on lithium-ion batteries.
Other common household rechargeable batteries include nickel cadmium (Ni-Cad) and nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH). Ni-Cads are an economical battery but contain cadmium which is toxic. Ni-MH batteries perform well in high-drain devices and are cadmium free, but expensive. Both types are used in cordless tools, cordless phones, digital cameras and two-way radios. Find recycling locations here.
Mercury and rechargeable batteries fall under the federal Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Act and thus can be recycled for free through national product stewardship programs like Call2Recycle, which is an organization funded by battery manufacturers that collects and recycles or safely disposes of applicable batteries.
Unlike the rechargeable battery program, there is currently no national stewardship law for free recycling of single-use batteries such as AAA, AA, 9V, C, or D cell – except in Vermont. These batteries do not contain mercury so when they are done, you can throw them in the trash.
For more information on recycling options for all types of batteries, visit: https://www.call2recycle.org. Photo credits: Call2Recycle.