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Many organizations we work with ask us about setting up collection areas for recyclable materials that cannot be included in their mixed recycling containers. Given the electronics used at most workplaces (cell phones, tools, recording equipment, etc.), batteries are one of the items that sustainability advisors see collected most often. If you don’t currently have a battery collection bucket or box around your office or shop, consider starting one.
For years, people recycled their alkaline batteries because they were aware that they contained mercury, which could leach into the environment in a number of ways once the battery was thrown away. The good news is that, as of 1996, mercury is no longer used in alkalines. While recycling is still the environmentally preferable choice, it is okay to throw the occasional alkaline battery in the garbage. If you can collect and recycle alkalines, though, you should. While they may no longer be considered hazardous waste, they still contain elements that can harm the environment, especially given the number of single-use batteries being disposed of each year. In 2011, Metro took in alkalines at a rate of 9 to 1 compared to rechargeables.
Although alkalines can be recycled, it’s important to remember that a great deal of work goes into separating out the copper, steel, and chemicals. Transportation impacts are high, too. If you regularly collect a small bucket or box of batteries, you know how much even a small amount can weigh. Imagine what it takes to move a truckload of them.
An even better approach is to use rechargeables whenever possible. Depending on the type you use, rechargeable batteries can replace as many as 1000 alkalines over time. In addition to saving money, you’ll reduce the environmental impacts of mining, packaging, and transporting all those single-use batteries.
It’s essential that you recycle rechargeables. All batteries contain heavy metals, but with rechargeable batteries, nickel, cadmium and lead are common. Rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste and should be treated as such. Don’t forget button batteries, too. Many (whether single-use or rechargeable) contain mercury and cadmium. Do not throw them away.
Batteries (alkaline and rechargeables) can be dropped off at any number of locations in Portland. Visit Metro’s Find a Recycler page to generate a list of drop-off sites sorted by proximity to your workplace. Some places will take batteries at no charge; others charge a small fee. You can also call Metro with specific questions about batteries or disposing of other hazardous wastes at 503-234-3000. For assistance with additional sustainability actions, green team support or staff training, get in touch with one of our sustainability advisors.