Why Should We Recycle Batteries and CFL Bulbs?
Keep Mercury Out of the Trash
Mercury is a heavy metal that is found in many rocks. When we break down fossil fuels, such as burning coal at a power plant, we release large amounts of mercury into the atmosphere. When we throw a battery or bulb containing mercury into the trash, rain leaches mercury from the landfills into the oceans. Once in the oceans, the fish eat it. When we eat the fish, we consume the mercury. Talk about toxic chemical karma.
So what’s wrong with eating a little mercury? Heavy metals build up in your body over time, and can eventually kill you. Mercury poisoning can damage the brain, kidneys, and lungs, and cause a number of diseases.
Flat, circular batteries (like watch batteries) and CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury. When I was a kid, all thermometers contained about 500 mg of mercury. Today’s CFL bulbs contain about 4 mg of mercury, which is sealed within glass tubing.
If you break a CFL bulb, the mercury is released in a vapor. Leave the room for 10 minutes to allow the mercury to dissipate. The Environmental Protection Agency offers steps to take when a CFL breaks. Mercury-containing batteries will release mercury into the air if you burn them.
All Batteries are Hazardous Waste
Batteries contain heavy metals like cadmium, lead, lithium, mercury, nickel, silver and zinc. Alkaline batteries contain corrosive materials. Rechargeable batteries also contain heavy metals, found in their names: nickel cadmium (NiCd), lithium ion (Li-ion), and small sealed lead (Pb) batteries.
The danger of throwing batteries in the trash is similar to mercury: the heavy metals are leached from the landfills and contaminate our oceans, find their way into fish, and then back into us. Recycle batteries, and keep those metals out of the ground.
We’re Not the Only Ones Being Poisoned
Fish-eating wildlife, such as otter, mink, loons, herons, and eagles, have been found with elevated mercury levels. Mercury poisoning can decrease their ability to reproduce, impair their growth and development, or simply kill them. As with most environmental problems, it’s impossible to pinpoint the extent of the damage, but it’s clear that we are making a mess that we don’t know how to clean up. Unfortunately, it’s expected that our mercury outputs will continue to increase over time, as we increase our consumption of fossil fuels. Recycle batteries to do a small part in protecting the oceans, wildlife, and ourselves.
Where to Recycle Batteries and CFL Bulbs
Home improvement stores usually recycle batteries and CFL bulbs for free. Some cities, like Carlsbad, let you recycle batteries with your regular trash service. An excellent resource to find out where to drop off your household hazardous waste is search.earth911.com. Enter what you want to recycle and where you live, and their database produces a list of nearby stores that recycle batteries and CFL bulbs.
Learn more about responsible homeownership from my Green Home Tips.