Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Importance of Battery Recycling in the UK‏

by Louise Longworth

Surprisingly, not everyone is aware of the importance of recycling household batteries, and many may not even be aware that they can be recycled. This is set to change however, with the European Union's Battery Directive imposing stricter guidelines on the recycling of batteries.

Most consumers of batteries are aware that batteries contain chemicals that are potentially harmful to humans, such as mercury, cadmium and lead. While some of these, such as lead, are being phased out in battery manufacture, there are still some around and having these enter landfill can cause serious consequences to human health years down the track, not to mention the impact on biodiversity and ecosystems.

Cadmium, for example, which is still used in many nickel-cadmium rechargeable type batteries, is a known carcinogen and is highly toxic to humans and the environment. Mercury is known to be extremely toxic and can cause acute and chronic poisoning. Lead is another poisonous metal that can affect young children's brain development and cause serious blood and brain disorders.

The Battery Directive stipulates guidelines for the chemical content of batteries, to reduce the use of hazardous substances such as lead and mercury in batteries into the future. The Directive is not legislation, but a guideline for participating nations - however it can impose penalties on countries if they do not follow the guidelines.

The Battery Directive also provides target percentages for the amount of batteries that should be diverted from landfill and instead be recycled. In the years ahead, more householders will need to ensure that waste batteries are put aside for recycling, and an increase in kerbside collection services will help meet these targets.

The battery recycling process is complex and specific to the type of battery being treated. Batteries may either be heat treated to recover metals for reuse, or otherwise dissolved in acid. Common household batteries fall into three main groups; dry cell non-rechargeable, dry cell rechargeable, and button cells.

Dry-cell non-rechargeable batteries include zinc carbon batteries, used in low power appliances such as clocks and radios, and alkaline manganese, common in personal stereos and portable CD players. Primary button cells are smaller batteries, some containing mercuric oxide, which are used in hearing aids, pacemakers and photographic equipment. Zinc air is a type of button cell battery also. Lithium and silver oxide are other types of button cell used often in watches, calculators and photographic equipment.

Dry-cell rechargeable batteries differ in their content to the non-rechargeable sort in that they often contain the metals nickel and cadmium. One of the most popular batteries currently used is the nickel cadmium, or NiCd battery. These are used to power mobile phones, laptop computers and other small appliances. Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, on the other hand, are another variety of dry-cell rechargeable that are less environmentally impacting compared to NiCd batteries and these also have a longer life than NiCd.

Weighing up all of these factors may help in making wiser consumer decisions in the purchase of batteries, as well as thinking twice before throwing empty batteries into the regular household garbage. There are safer, cleaner options in the form of battery recycling, to protect our health, the health of our children and the health of the environment.

Find out more about battery recycling in the UK by visiting

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