Each year, National Battery Day takes place in Canada on February 18. The event, backed by a national consumer battery stewardship program, Call2Recycle®, seeks to raise awareness about the importance of recycling consumer batteries responsibly. Oftentimes, we think of consumer batteries as AA, AAA, or similar types that can be purchased from stores. Yet, there are many other types found in devices we use every day. Here’s a closer look at how batteries power our world, and how to recycle them responsibly.
The History & Evolving Role of Batteries
Batteries are electric cells that create electricity through a chemical reaction. The term “battery” was first coined by Benjamin Franklin in 1748, in reference to charged glass plates he was using to conduct electrical experiments. In the 1780s, Italian physicist Luigi Galvani laid the foundation for early batteries with his research into electricity and nerve impulses. In 1800, a different Italian physicist, Alessandro Volta, invented the electric battery, powering the first source of continuous current. Volta used discs of zinc and copper to create the current, and his original design was refined throughout the 1800s.
More than a century later, Thomas Edison created the first alkaline storage battery. His innovations increased the lifespan and efficiency of the battery by swapping out sulfides in the battery with desulphurized rubber insulators. Throughout the 1900s, batteries continued to evolve. Most notably, the 1980s saw the emergence of lithium-ion batteries. Leveraging the element lithium, which has significant electrochemical potential, these batteries can produce high voltages while remaining compact. Today, these and other batteries are used in everything from mobile phones to vehicles, as well as home maintenance tools, remote controls, hearing aids, laptops and tablets.
Why Batteries Must Be Recycled Properly
Despite all the many ways batteries help us, they do present inherent risks. For instance, they’re prone to thermal runaway when disposed of in landfills, meaning they can overheat and cause fires or explosions. They also contain mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel — toxic heavy metals which could seep into groundwater and cause pollution. As such, batteries are a form of hazardous waste produced by households and businesses alike.
Unfortunately, North Americans throw away 3.3 billion mixed batteries each year instead of recycling them. Across the globe, an estimated 30,000 tonnes of batteries are thrown away, and just 1,000 tonnes are recycled properly. Not only does this present environmental risks, but it also impedes opportunities for recycling. While the materials found in batteries are dangerous for landfills, when recycled properly, they can be reused for the production of new batteries.
How to Manage Your End-of-Life Batteries
Recycling loose, mixed batteries such as AAs and AAAs is simple and straightforward. While they can’t be processed as part of a typical home recycling program, they can be dropped off at your nearest residential electronics recycling location for safe handling.
Batteries embedded in devices, on the other hand, often wind up in landfills because it’s difficult for end users to extract them. In such cases, it’s best to turn to an electronics recycler who can manage the process for you. Fortunately, this also means simply visiting a residential electronics recycling location once you’re ready to part with the full device, including the embedded battery.
For businesses, both mixed batteries and those found in electronics can be managed through an electronics recycling program. Just schedule a pickup and let Quantum handle the rest.
To ensure safe battery handling, Quantum maintains regulatory compliance by working with downstream processors who work within the framework of the Resource Productivity & Recovery Authority (RPRA). Find out more about how we can recycle all of your end-of-life electronics safely and sustainably here.