Next Time You Use a Gadget Powered by Batteries – Remember This!
This is a Guest Post by Emma Metson
Batteries are an essential part of our lives. We’ve grown so dependent on them for almost everything – from mobile phones, cars, remote controls, watches, laptops, and anything else in between.
Pretty much anything portable that requires power to work makes use of batteries. The path that we are walking on is seemingly that of a wireless world. A world that’s connected by technologies that need batteries.
As more and more are produced, the higher the environmental impact they creates. Who suffers the most at the end of this process? You and me. Here’s why.
Why Batteries are Harmful to the Environment
A tiny AAA battery may not be able to convince you that it’s detrimental to the environment. But once you know how many of these things are being produced every year – and how many end up in landfills – you’ll definitely change your mind.
Electronic waste or e-waste refers to the waste caused by discarding electronic devices, especially consumer electronics. In the UK for example, only 15% of mobile phones were recycled. A major component of these mobile phones is batteries.
There are different kinds of batteries, and they’re made using a variety of materials. What makes batteries dangerous to the environment are the chemicals used to make them.
Apart from mining these resources – which has a detrimental effect on Nature – a battery contains one or more of the following metals: cadmium, lead, zinc, manganese, nickel, silver, mercury, and lithium, as well as acids.
These chemicals are extremely toxic – to us and the environment.
Air Pollution: Batteries undergo a photochemical reaction as they decompose in landfills. This causes emissions of greenhouse gases. The greenhouse effect results in global warming / climate change.
Water Pollution: The harmful chemicals found in batteries can also find their way into the local water supply, killing plants and animals which negatively affect the ecosystems of streams, lakes, and rivers. Ultimately, the health of people who drink contaminated water is also at risk. The same can be said when it comes to eating fish found in polluted waters.
Soil Pollution: I already mentioned that most batteries end up in landfills instead of being recycled or disposed of properly. The danger lies in the fact that these batteries contain toxic chemicals that are absorbed by the soil. Once they leak into the surrounding areas, that’s where the deleterious effects take place.
Why Batteries are Harmful to Humans
Humans suffer because of these chemicals:
Lead: Inorganic lead dust is the most significant health hazard when it comes to batteries. Lead can be absorbed into the body through inhalation and ingestion, both of which are equally dangerous.
People can become exposed to lead through occupational and environmental sources. For example, people working in the manufacture of batteries are prone to lead dust inhalation and ingestion. The areas surrounding a landfill where batteries are thrown are also sources of lead.
Children and foetuses are most vulnerable since their bodies are still developing. High levels of lead exposure can affect a child’s growth, cause brain damage, impair hearing, harm kidneys, and induce behavioural problems.
Adults are also affected negatively by lead. Exposure can cause memory loss and decrease the ability to concentrate; it can even harm the reproductive system.
Sulfuric acid: Found in lead-acid batteries (commonly used in cars), sulfuric acid is highly corrosive. It can cause permanent blindness if it comes into contact with your eyes. Ingestion of this acid can fatally damage internal organs. The good news is that the presence of sulfuric acid in the environment doesn’t always lead to exposure. Direct contact with it is what you should avoid.
Cadmium: This is used in nickel-cadmium batteries and is considered to be even more harmful than lead when ingested. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified cadmium as a carcinogen to humans. It can be absorbed through the skin by touching a battery that has split open and leaked. When these batteries end up in landfills, they can contaminate the soil and the surrounding areas. Eating crops that were grown from cadmium-contaminated soil can damage or destroy the kidneys.
Reducing Battery Usage
Unfortunately, batteries will continue to be a necessity until we’re able to find another means to store energy. The least that we can do for the time being is try to avoid battery-powered items whenever possible.
Here are a few suggestions of how to reduce battery usage :
- Use mains electricity as a power source if possible, especially if it’s generated by renewable energy.
- Opt for renewable energy sources like a wind-up radio or torch, dynamo bicycle lights, or a solar-powered calculator.
- Consider non-battery alternatives. For example, when buying toys for children, choose non-battery playthings.
It is going to be hard for sure considering the kind of society we now live in. We just have to accept the fact that we need batteries in our everyday lives. There’s no getting away from them for the time being.
Other than that, there are two things more that you can do to reduce your environmental footprint when it comes to batteries.
Use Rechargeables : The truth is, even rechargeable batteries emit harmful chemicals when disposed of, just like their disposable counterparts. However, most of them can be charged up to 1000 times when appropriately used. That means that you won’t be throwing as many of them away compared to using single-use ones.
Aside from contributing to the overall wellness of the environment, you also save money. While the initial cost of buying rechargeable batteries is more compared to a standard pack of alkaline batteries, you’ll save money with them in the long run.
To give you a better idea on the savings you can get from using rechargeables, you can check this informative post from Lifehacker.com. The figures are in US dollars, but the idea should be pretty much the same globally.
Rechargeable batteries can be used over and over again, so by using them you directly help the conservation of resources (fewer batteries need to be manufactured and transported, which lessens the need to mine resources).
It’s not much if only a few people are doing it. However, just imagine how big of an impact this will create with our combined efforts.
Recycling Batteries: If you’re a retailer or a battery distributor in the UK, you are required by law to offer free collection of used batteries if you sell or supply 32kg or more batteries annually.
Consumers on the other hand, can recycle batteries by placing them into collection containers found in many retail outlets and public buildings in most countries.
Most of the UK’s waste batteries were shipped elsewhere for recycling, but new plants opened at the end of 2017 now process all of the UK’s current waste batteries, which is some good news.
Without a doubt, the invention of the battery was a major milestone in our history. It has helped us in more ways that we can ever imagine. However, the fact remains that they pose a grave threat to the environment and to us.
All of us need to contribute to ensuring that they are properly disposed of. Now is the time to do so – before it’s too late.
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P.S. Want to live a simpler, more green and ecofriendly life? (It’s been shown to increase happiness!). You can download your FREE green living handbook “Live Well, Live Green” here. Get it now!
- These small, daily changes will help the environment in a big way!
- Get rid of all the toxic products in your life (you’ll be shocked at where they hide!). It’s easy – see how here!