Okay, nurses, let’s dish about batteries. We use them at work for all sorts of equipment: portable monitors, lab equipment, thermometers, even flashlights to check pupil response. Americans throw away 180,000 TONS of batteries a year! Some of these discarded batteries may contain lead, cadmium, or mercury that could leech into the soil and groundwater supply. They are not all created equally eco-friendly. Here’s a list of the types of commonly used batteries:
- Alkaline: These are the typical single use AAA, AA, C, D, and 9-volt batteries that we buy and store in bulk. In 1996, Congress passed laws to limit the amount of mercury in alkaline batteries; so many area waste programs will advise you to throw post 1996 batteries in the trash, as they only contain trace amounts of toxic substances. These types of batteries can leak with age. Fortunately, there are ways to recycle them and to recover the zinc and steel in them.
- Nickel-cadmium (NiCAD) batteries: NiCAD batteries are the rechargeable batteries in common sizes as well as larger ones used for power tools, electronics and medical equipment. Even though each battery should have around 1,000 charges in its lifetime, many of these find their way into the trash. They contain the toxic heavy metal cadmium, which when burned produces a poisonous vapor. In some states, it is illegal to throw them out! See http://www.call2recycle.org/recycling-law-map for your state’s restrictions.
- Lithium: These come in the usual sizes, AA, AAA, 9V, and button. Lithium-ion batteries are usually custom sized, and fit in computers, cell phones, cameras, and other electronics. These contain valuable heavy metals that could be reused. Lithium batteries are said to be reactive with excessive heat and may short circuit or overheat and cause a hazard.
- Automobile battery: This is a lead acid battery and is very toxic in a landfill due to the lead and sulfuric acid inside. The good news is that most states have laws about discarding them, and mandate that shops that sell these types of batteries also collect them for recycling. So if you are changing your own car or lawn mower battery (hey, we nurses are VERY capable!), call car repair shops or Autozone for recycling options.
Now that we know what we have, let’s talk about getting them recycled! Your regular waste handler at home may not accept batteries mixed in with other recyclables, so it’s up to The Green Nurse to make sure it gets to the right place. And it’s easy! The rechargeable battery industry has created a non-profit group dedicated to recycling batteries and cellphones, “Call2Recycle”, which offers FREE rechargeable battery recycling. Yes, FREE! They have over 30,000 drop-off locations and offer a prepaid mail in box also. See their website http://www.call2recycle.org/ for all the info. Your organization could even sign up! What a project for your going green committee!
Call2Recycle does not take alkaline batteries, so call your waste handler, local government or look at www.earth911.com for their recycling locator. Personally, I have ordered the iRecycle kit from batteryrecycling.com which provides me with a prepaid ($29.95 for 5lbs of batteries, usually 6-12 months’ worth of batteries) box to fill up and return for recycling.
OK nurses, please comment! Does anyone else feel passionately about saving this planet for our patients and our children?! Let me hear from you. So before you throw those telemetry box batteries in the trash….