Tiny but toxic

Batteries, especially rechargeable batteries, contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium that should not be incinerated nor disposed of in landfils.

Each year billions of used batteries are disposed of into the municipal waste stream in the United States. Batteries contribute 88 percent of the mercury and 54 percent of the cadmium deposited into our landfills,thereby adversely affecting the environment, wildlife, and human health.

The EPA writes: “In landfills, heavy metals from batteries have the potential to leach slowly into the soil, ground water, and surface water. When incinerated, the heavy metals can enter the air through smokestack emissions and can concentrate in the ash produced by combustion. When the incinerator ash is disposed of, the heavy metals in the ash can enter the environment. When introduced into the environment through landfill disposal or incineration, these heavy metals make their way into the food chain. The presence of these heavy metals in the food chain presents very serious consequences. The possible health effects associated with ingestion or inhalation of heavy metals through water, food, or air include headaches, abdominal discomfort, seizures, and comas. Additionally, several heavy metals, such as cadmium, are known carcinogens.”



Recycling options

Chicago has initiated a city-wide battery collection program, where alkaline and rechargeable batteries (but not lead-acid car batteries) can be dropped off at any Chicago Public Library or Walgreens Drug Store in the city. Look for a recycling display and plastic containers to deposit your batteries.

The other option is to take them with you when you go to a household hazardous waste (HHW) collection. Chicago, in conjunction with the Illinois EPA, annually holds several HHW collections, where all types of batteries (normal alkaline batteries, rechargeable and car batteries) are accepted. Battery recycling is free of charge. Dates and locations for collections in the Chicago area can be found on the IEPA website link, under “web resources,” below. Or call the Illinois EPA Waste Reduction Unit at (217) 785-8604 or the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation at (312) 744-4611.

In addition, the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) has multiple collection sites throughout Chicago for rechargeable batteries from items such as cordless power tools, cellular and cordless phones, laptop computers, camcorders, digital cameras, and remote control toys. They also collect rechargeable AA’s, C’s, D’s, etc. RBRC recycles the following battery chemistries: Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion) and Small Sealed Lead Acid (Pb). To find a drop-off location, go to the RBRC web link listed below. Call the drop-off site before you visit to make sure the collection is still going on.

Typical locations include hardware and wireless-phone stores, Home Depot, RadioShack, and others.

Also, some stores may accept household alkaline or other non-rechargeable batteries. But again, CALL FIRST.

Web resources

Illinois EPA Household Hazardous Waste Collection Schedule

Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation
USEPA “Product Stewardship”