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The Ubiquitous Household Battery

Learn which batteries are the most eco-friendly and how to properly dispose of expired batteries

They’re in your kid’s toys, your cell phone and cordless phone, and even the greeting card you got for your birthday.  Yep, batteries are everywhere, and you can’t just toss them in the trash when they expire.

Household batteries contain hazardous heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium and nickel that can contaminate soil and groundwater if they end up in the landfill. California actually made it illegal for residents to throw batteries in the garbage in 2006.

Now it’s not like the police are out raiding your garbage cans, looking for illegally dumped batteries. But because it’s the law and because it’s better for the environment, it’s best to recycle your old batteries.

Recycling Batteries in San Bruno

You can easily recycle batteries in San Carlos – simply put your batteries in a clear plastic bag, and place them on top of your recycling cart on your normal pick-up day. For other nearby drop-off locations, visit San Mateo County RecycleWork’s online recycling directory.

You have more drop-off options for rechargeable batteries – the batteries you’ll usually find in your cell phone or digital camera. You can recycle them through the programs listed above, or take them back to any store that sells rechargeable batteries. Retailers that sell rechargeables are required by state law to collect them for recycling. Visit Call2Recycle for a full list of stores.

How Do Batteries Get Recycled?

“Battery recycling depends on the chemistry of the battery. Not all batteries are recycled the same,” said Carl Smith, CEO of Call2Recycle, the rechargeable battery recycling organization.

Rechargeable batteries have more valuable materials in them than single-use batteries, Smith said. Recyclers value lithium-ion batteries for its cobalt, for example. Once precious metals are extracted, the byproducts are made into composite materials used in road construction or concrete.

Single-use batteries – like the AAA batteries you have in your TV remote control – generally contain less valuable metals. Recyclers can extract metal from the battery casing, according to Monica Devincenzi, manager at Rethink Waste, a recycling agency that serves many cities in San Mateo County. The alkaline is burned to produce energy, she said, which is currently the “highest and best use” of this material.

Reduce Before You Recycle

Recycling your spent batteries is great, but remember it’s better to reduce the amount of batteries you use in the first place.

Rechargeable batteries seem like the most eco-friendly choice, since they have a longer life. But Carl Smith pointed out that because precious materials must be mined to make rechargeable batteries, rechargeables often have a greater environmental impact during production than single-use batteries.

Smith recommends that you choose batteries based on the application. Rechargeable batteries are best suited for high-tech products that need to be charged often like cell phones, digital cameras, wireless mice and keyboards, toys, telephone headsets, calculators and walkie-talkies.

Single-use batteries work best in devices that slowly drain power like TV remote controls and clocks. Always use single-use batteries in your smoke detector, as rechargeables can drain quickly and you want to make sure the battery is working when you need the device to detect smoke.

So the best green battery advice is to chose the best battery for the product (single-use vs. rechargeable), and recycle expired batteries through your local recycling programs. And yes, you even need to recycle that battery from your birthday card:  rip out the battery for recycling, and recycle the card in your paper bin.

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