Recycle those batteries

Published Tuesday, April 29, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

These days, batteries are everywhere.  Clocks, toys, remotes, electronic gadgets, cordless phones, and more: all run on batteries.

And whether they’re single use or rechargeable, or whether they’re AAA, 9 volt or D size, all batteries have something in common.  They’re made of materials that don’t belong in a landfill.

Here’s the why and how on battery recycling.

Why recycle?

There are two important reasons to recycle batteries.

First, the main materials they contain – iron, manganese, nickel and zinc – are far too valuable for a landfill.  They can be recovered and reprocessed into new products, and that can avoid the need for new mines.  (That’s more important than one might think; mines have enormous environmental impacts, from scars on the land to noxious tailings left behind for generations.)

Secondly, some of the other materials batteries contain – lead, cadmium and mercury – are hazardous.  Over time, they can leach out of landfills and contaminate surrounding soil and water.  On this count, rechargeable batteries tend to be especially guilty.

In spite of the importance of recycling batteries, it would seem Canadians are not especially good at it.  According to Statistics Canada, over 75% of the batteries sold in Canada in 2004 ended up in the trash.  Ontario, BC, Manitoba and Quebec have since enacted battery recycling laws so recycling rates there have improved dramatically.  However, it’s fair to guess that in NB today, the vast majority of batteries still end up in the trash.

Battery recycling made easy

But here’s good news: battery recycling is available right now across New Brunswick, thanks to Call2Recycle.  It’s a non-profit organization established in 1994 by battery manufacturers for the specific purpose of collecting and recycling used household batteries.

Call2Recycle has over 30,000 collection sites across Canada and the US, where used batteries and old cell phones can be dropped off at no cost.  Collection sites are typically at hardware stores (for example, participating Home Depot, Canadian Tire and Home Hardware stores), retail stores (for example, participating Staples and The Source stores), solid waste commissions or even municipal offices.  

In New Brunswick, there are Call2Recycle collection sites in every city, plus many towns and villages.  To find the one nearest you, visit www.call2recycle.ca/locator.   

If you live in a community covered by the Kent Regional Service Commission, Greater Miramichi Regional Service Commission or COGERNO (in northwestern NB), you’re in luck, because all three have enhanced battery recycling programs.  The Kent and Miramichi commissions sponsor collection sites in 26 communities, from Doaktown to Burnt Church to St-Antoine.  Even more laudable, COGERNO sponsors collection sites in dozens of businesses from Clair to St Quentin, and in every single school in the region.  Wow!  (Enhanced programs may be available elsewhere too; call your local solid waste commission to inquire.)

Take action

If there is no collection site where you live, work, shop or go to school, why not take the initiative and create one?  It’s simple – Call2recycle can provide all the information and material you need; just visit http://www.call2recycle.ca/collect-batteries/.  If you’re not ready to commit to full-time collecting, why not consider a one-time blitz?  That’s what the students of George Street Middle School in Fredericton did recently.  The result?  2468 batteries and old cell phones that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill were collected for recycling – and the school is now maintaining a permanent drop off bin!

One last thought: since reusing is better than recycling, why not invest in rechargeable batteries?  They’re cheaper and less wasteful in the long run – but be sure to recycle them when they’re done.

The next time you change batteries – whether in a clock, a toy or something else – please don’t throw those old batteries out; they're far too valuable - and noxious - for a landfill.  Instead, drop them off at your nearest Call2Recycle collection site.