Why you can’t always throw AA batteries in the trash

Washington DC
CNN Business

There is a good chance that you are not disposing of the AA batteries properly. But you may not be to blame.

There’s no shortage of conflicting messages about what to do with your dead alkaline batteries, which include AA, AAA, C, D and 9-volt. Authorities and battery manufacturers do not have consistent and clear guidelines for the disposal of the alkaline batteries that power many of our small electrical devices such as remote controls, flashlights, watches and toys. They even vary depending on where you live.

Typical alkaline batteries such as AA include steel, zinc, manganese, potassium and graphite, according to Energizer, which sells alkaline batteries. Energy is generated when zinc and manganese interact.

Manganese is an essential nutrient, but at high levels it can cause negative health effects. Former manganese miners and smelters have suffered permanent neurological damage. With any battery there is a risk of chemicals leaking into soil, surface water and groundwater. Contaminated water and crops can lead to diseases such as cancer. But alkaline batteries are not particularly toxic compared to other battery types.

The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that in most communities batteries can be safely disposed of in the trash. But it recommends sending alkaline batteries like AAs to a battery recycler. Which does not necessarily mean that you can throw the batteries in the normal waste bin.

A major exception to this is California, which classifies batteries as hazardous waste. The state says they are dangerous because of the metals, toxic and corrosive materials batteries contain. Residents are asked to take AA and all batteries to hazardous waste. No other state also classifies batteries as hazardous waste. However, some local governments require the recycling of AA batteries and have programs to do so.

The District of Columbia asks residents to drop off AA batteries for recycling at a designated location, but not in their recycling bins. Seattle residents are encouraged to take their AA batteries to hazardous waste.

“Tossing a handful of batteries in the trash may not seem like a big deal, but it adds up: about 180,000 tons of batteries are thrown away in the U.S. each year,” the city warns.

Other places like Chicago refuse to take alkaline batteries to recycling facilities.

Why you can’t always throw AA batteries in the trash

Large metropolitan areas within a couple of hours of each other can have dramatically different policies. Austin, Texas warns that batteries should never be thrown into dumpsters or curbside trash. Houston, Texas says it’s okay to put batteries in the trash. Some retailers such as Home Depot say you can dispose of alkaline batteries with your regular trash.

Many places that require AA batteries to be put in the trash say it’s reasonable because they no longer contain mercury following a 1996 law. (Mercury was previously in batteries to prevent corrosion.) The 1996 law also led to the creation of Call 2 Recycle, a non-profit organization originally created by battery manufacturers, offers consumers battery recycling options.

What to do with your batteries is also not necessarily clearer if you check with the manufacturers. Duracell encourages customers to check with local and state regulations, as well as check recycling options.

Amazon sells AA batteries under its Basics line of items that include a symbol of a container with a large X above it, which looks like it could be a trash or recycling bin.

The crossed-out symbol means the product must be disposed of separately from household waste and typical recycling bins, according to Amazon spokeswoman Betsy Harden.

Harden added that Amazon recommends following EPA and local regulations.

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