Today almost everything uses batteries – from wristwatches and mobile phones to laptop computers and cars. Anything that runs on electricity without having to rely on an external power source for practical reasons requires a battery. However, as great as batteries are for making portable devices, they are not built to last forever, even the rechargeable batteries that can be used far longer and more often than the non-rechargeable end up dead.
Once they reach the ends of their functional lives all varieties of batteries have to be discarded, though most current methods of disposal pose enormous risks to both the environment and the population. Commercially-available batteries are filled with chemicals that are hazardous when exposed to the natural environment. Direct contact between any of these chemicals and water will result in almost immediate contamination. Entire bodies of water may already be polluted with such waste products. Burning of metals only releases toxic fumes into the atmosphere, making it harmful for breathing. Dumping old batteries in landfills is not the answer, either, as the corrosive properties of the chemicals inside will ultimately allow them to leak out of their cells and seep into the ground beneath, rendering its surroundings unsafe for cultivation.
Fortunately, there are some ways to minimize or even eliminate the harmful effects of batteries on the environment. One of the more proactive options is recycling. Not only does it reduce the amount of chemicals being thrown away every year, it ensures that some of the materials found in batteries will again find use in new batteries and other objects. Actual recycling is done only by accredited entities with the necessary facilities but it wouldn’t hurt to know how this sort of recycling takes place.
Zinc-alkaline and zinc-carbon batteries need to be placed in specialized furnaces. These furnaces capture and isolate any zinc emissions that are caused when the batteries are placed under extreme heat. Once the zinc has been completely separated, the remaining metals may be used in the manufacture of low-grade steel.
For lithium-ion batteries such as those commonly found in mobile phones, the batteries’ contents are exposed to extreme heat that separates high-temperature metals like nickel and iron from low-temperature metals like lithium and zinc. The high-temperature metals in their pure form may be used for a variety of purposes while the low-temperature metals become metal oxides used mainly for variable resistors in electronic circuitry.
For disposing lead-acid batteries such as the ones used in cars, the recycling facility crushes the batteries into tiny fragments to more easily separate the lead content from the plastic components. The lead is melted down to rid it of impurities and then sold to battery manufacturers and other industries that have a use for it. The plastic components are sent to a different facility that reprocesses them for future use in batteries and other products that use plastic.
While batteries are of great importance to the world today, no one can deny the imminent detrimental effects they have on the environment once they have lost their usefulness. Recycling doesn’t eliminate the problems altogether, but it reduces them by giving new life to batteries or at least, some of their components.