Reusable Planet Blog: Are Batteries Toxic?
Author: Rachel Date Posted:24 September 2023
WONDERFUL, TOXIC BATTERIES
Batteries are great! They let us do all sorts of things. They keep us mobile on our smart phones, keep us driving in our cars, run our computers and light our torches! These days they are helping thousands of Australians live off-grid, too.
But batteries also create hazardous waste, and we’re using more and more. According to Clean Up Australia, battery waste could exceed 100,000 tonnes by 2036.
The CSIRO says Australians produce around 3,300 tonnes just of lithium-ion battery waste each year, which is increasing by 20% each year. Only 10% of Australia's lithium-ion battery waste was recycled in 2021.
Australia passed the milestone of 100,000 electric vehicles on the road in mid-2023, and it is estimated we will need to deal with 30,000 tonnes of waste just from old EV batteries by 2030.
Batteries contain toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium, sulfuric acid and lead. They definitely don’t belong in your kerbside waste bins and should never be sent to landfill.
When batteries end up in landfill (or worse, are dumped), the toxic substances in them contaminate the soil and groundwater and pollute the environment via leachate, which can poison people and animals. These contaminants also linger in the environment for a long time.
ARE BATTERIES TOXIC TO TOUCH?
No. And yes.
Of course, we have to handle batteries in order to use them, so they are manufactured in a way that is safe for handling. However, older batteries that have leaked their contents or have started to corrode or degrade can be toxic to touch.
Lead, cadmium, sulfuric acid and other components of various batteries are definitely not safe to touch, and can cause a myriad of health issues from kidney damage to neurotoxicity.
Also be mindful of smelling dead batteries as the toxic components can be inhaled, like lead and acid, which can become airborne when dry. In 2019, the University of Southern California published about the detection of lead in teeth of children living near a battery recycling plant in California.
So yes, you need to show all caution when handling and discarding batteries.
Depending on what kind they are, batteries can also catch fire! Lithium-ion batteries are particularly dangerous as they are energy dense and can catch fire if they become damaged or overheat. Be aware of batteries in laptops, mobile phones, power tools and cameras. But small voltage alkaline batteries can also start a fire under the right conditions.
CAN BATTERIES BE RECYCLED?
Fortunately, batteries are also a valuable resource that contain non-renewable materials like lithium, manganese, nickel and zinc. These materials can all be recycled an infinite number of times, giving them a commercial value.
Active components of lithium-ion batteries, including graphite, cobalt, nickel and lithium, are used to produce a mixed metal dust which is used to produce new lithium-ion batteries.
Any plastics, steel, copper and aluminium are also recovered and recycled, some of which are used to manufacture new batteries.
Bonus, this means less mining and less manufacturing, which means less pollution.
You can recycle all types of batteries, from button batteries, AA, AAA, C, D and 9V batteries, power tool batteries, rechargeable batteries, E-Bike batteries, car batteries and more.
Though batteries are recyclable, they should never be put in your kerbside recycling bin!
Consider these battery best-practice points:
1. Reduce battery waste and buy rechargeable batteries. It’s a bigger initial outlay, but is cheaper in the long-run as each battery can be recharged up to 1000 times.
2. Button cell batteries are particularly dangerous for young children. If swallowed, they can cause internal burns or even death. If buying anything, but especially toys containing button cell batteries, ensure the battery closure requires screws and always keep spare button batteries out of reach of children. And pets. Especially if you have one of those dogs that will eat anything!
3. Definitely, 100%, recycle all your batteries. Around 95% of the components of a battery can be turned into new batteries or reused in other industries.
WHERE CAN I RECYCLE MY BATTERIES?
B-cycle is Australia’s battery stewardship scheme. Head over to the B-cycle website to search thousands of recycling locations across the country.
RECYCLING NEAR ME also has a location finder where you can check for more options based on your postcode.
These popular businesses will also accept various types of batteries for drop off, so you can do it as part of your usual routine when out and about:
Aldi Supermarkets: Battery recycling bins that accept AA, AAA, C, D and 9V batteries (both rechargeable and non-rechargeable).
Bunnings: Batteries from power tools and AA, AAA, C, D, 9V, 6V and button batteries.
Officeworks: AA, AAA, C, D, 9V, laptop and mobile phone batteries.
Mobile Muster: Mobile phone batteries.
Battery World: Varies, check instore.
Woolworths: Varies, check instore.
Century: Take used lead acid vehicle batteries, as do many mechanics, Council transfer stations and waste management centres.
Commercial Battery Recycling: Visit the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative to find a commercial recycler by location.
Do you already recycle your batteries? Are you going to get yourself some rechargeable batteries? We'd love to know!
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All our blog articles written by Rachel or our Guest Bloggers are well researched and 100% written by a real human person. We hope you have been informed, educated or entertained.
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