It's easy to toss that little, used battery away without realising the risk it may pose to human health, wildlife and the environment when it starts to erode in landfill and leach into the soil and waterways.
Image source: Ecocycle Australia
With so many of the gadgets we use at home and work requiring batteries, it is perhaps not surprising that Planet Ark have revealed that approx. 345 million handheld batteries are purchased in Australia each year. 72% of these are AA and AAA batteries.
However, whilst approx. 264 million (12,000 tonnes) of hand held batteries reach the end of their useful life in Australia annually, about 2/3rds of these are disposed of in landfill. That's 180 million batteries (8,000 tonnes) going into Australian landfills every year!
Heavy metals in landfill
Batteries are a risk to human health, wildlife and the environment if disposed of inappropriately because they contain hazardous chemicals and toxic metals that can leach into the soil and waterways when they erode in landfill.
Lead, mercury and cadmium are particularly toxic, but other metals such as nickel can also be of concern if they leach into surface or ground water.
Batteries also take an incomparable amount of time to break down in a landfill – estimates range anywhere from between 100 to 1,000 years!
Why aren't more batteries recycled?
Recycling batteries can recover up to 90% of the materials used to manufacture them and helps to conserve valuable non-renewable resources.
The metallic components in rechargeable batteries and precious metals found in single-use batteries (such as silver, iron and mercury) can all be recovered and used for new products.
The main reason so many batteries end up in landfill, is that in Australia there are very few battery recycling facilities. Many households and businesses throw the small batteries away as local Councils do not provide the convenience of kerbside collection for battery recycling.
The extra effort required to collect and take the used batteries to a suitable drop off location can be a deterrent to the safe disposal for recycling purposes.
CMA Ecocycle is one of the few companies able to recycle batteries in Australia. Battery types that cannot be recycled in Australia are exported to approved recycling centres overseas for material recovery.
Are rechargeable batteries a better option?
Rechargeable batteries can be recharged up to 1,000 times via a battery charger that usually plugs into a wall outlet. By reusing the battery over and over again - the number of batteries discarded to landfill will be reduced.
However, there is a downside to rechargeable batteries - they contain more hazardous and potentially toxic chemicals than disposable alkaline batteries, and they require additional energy to charge.
Used rechargeable batteries are classified as hazardous waste and they must not be disposed of with general waste. This includes batteries in notebook computers, mobile phones, power tools and cameras.
Next generation of eco-friendly alkaline batteries
To address these issues, a Canadian company have created Eco Alkalines™ - a more sustainable alternative for single use batteries that are now available in Australia through Eco Office Supplies.
Eco Alkalines™ are the world's first certified carbon neutral batteries.
Manufactured in China with 0% Mercury, 0% Lead, and 0% Cadmium – Eco Alkalines™ set the standard for responsible disposable alkaline batteries.
Earth friendly and landfill safe, Eco Alkalines batteries contain no trace of toxic heavy metals such as Cadmium, Mercury or Lead.
Eco Alkalines are the world's first 100% carbon neutral alkaline battery, with 88% carbon free achieved through advanced manufacturing processes and the other 12% offset through the purchase of carbon credits.
Eco Alkalines are the first battery to be certified by Carbonfund.org, NSF.org and CarboNZero - an internationally accredited greenhouse gas certification programme which is commonly recognised in Australia (AU) and New Zealand (NZ).
Eco Alkaline batteries meet the requirements of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified projects - a rating system that is internationally recognised as a mark of excellence for green buildings.
Eco Alkalines batteries use recycled materials where possible; are up to 98% recyclable and they are working towards being 100% recyclable.
The batteries are supplied in recyclable packaging and have a 5 year guaranteed shelf life.
At the end of their useful life, Eco Alkalines batteries can be recycled just like a regular battery.
Should they end up in landfill, Eco Alkalines batteries are non-toxic and degrade much faster than a standard alkaline battery which can take anywhere from 100 to 1,000 years to break down. Eco Alkalines claim their batteries "take 50-70 years (depending on climate and geographic location) to degrade because of the materials they're made from" and "don't leach heavy metals into soils".
How do Eco Alkalines batteries perform against standard batteries?
So, how do they stack up against leading National brands such as Duracell Coppertop or Energizer Max alkaline batteries? Independent testing has shown that Eco Alkalines batteries are just as powerful and last just as long (and in some cases longer) than other leading Australian alkaline battery brands.
Eco Alkalines long-lasting batteries are available in all the standard sizes (such as AAA, AA, C, D and 9 volt) in both small packs for home use and bulk packs for business use.
Eco Alkalines batteries have a patented leak resistant seal that prevents battery leaks in your appliances or devices.
They are ideal for use in clocks, cameras, remote controls, a wireless computer mouse, torches, door bells, toys and handheld gaming controllers.
So what can you do to make a difference?
The number one thing you can do is gather up your batteries, and take them to a recycling outlet.
To find your nearest battery recycling drop-off locaton simply enter your post code on this website: http://recyclingnearyou.com.au/batteries
Alternatively, SITA Australia offers a Battery Recycling Program and will arrange a collection of used batteries from your workplace.
In Melbourne, Eco Feet offer free household battery recycling for households through Sustainability Victoria's Batteryback program; and EcoActiv provide a pre-paid battery collection and recycling service - with collection bins available from their web shop in 1 litre, 4 litre or 10 litre sizes.
Not-for-profit organisation, the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative provides useful information on their website.
To learn more about Battery Recycling please download this fact sheet by Planet Ark.
In summary, the most eco-friendly battery is the one that:
a) does not contain any toxic materials; and
b) gets recycled instead of being thrown away.