While many of us can easily recycle our paper, glass and plastic waste, recycling electronics and batteries is not as easy. However, recycling these items might be even more important than recycling more common household waste. You may not know this, but both old electronic items and batteries can leach harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 2.84 million tons of electronics were thrown away in 2017, with little more than 1 million tons recycled. The rest mostly ended up in county landfills.
Unfortunately, electronic devices often contain hazardous heavy metals, including barium, lead, silver, chromium, cadmium, and mercury. These can easily leech into the soil and groundwater, poisoning the environment.
The good news is, recycled electronics can often be refurbished and resold or donated to people in need. Likewise, some of the valuable metals, such as copper, silver, and gold, can be recovered and reused.
Batteries contain large amounts of toxic heavy metals and chemicals and simply tossing batteries in the trash can easily contaminate the soil pollute the water. The good news is, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that 99.1% of lead-acid vehicle batteries are recycled. This is because when you get a new battery for your vehicle, the auto shop already has a line to recycle all of the old batteries.
Unfortunately, batteries from our electronic devices are not responsibly recycled. More often than not, people don’t know how to recycle such batteries and simply toss them. However, many electronics retailers have battery recycling drop-offs, and there are battery recycling services that collect batteries from your business or office.
Reclaiming Valuable Metals
Both electronics and batteries contain valuable metals that can be recovered. Recovering these metals not only keeps them out of our landfills and our environment, but it also reduces the need for strip mining. It’s a sad fact, but many of the metals used in batteries, such as lithium, are mined in third-world countries, often using child labor.
To prevent future shortages of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other rare earth metals, recycling for lithium batteries is essential. Recycling retrieves not only nickel, cobalt, copper, lithium, and aluminum from old batteries, but also valuable graphite and manganese. The good news is, recycling can recover anywhere from 25% to 95% of the materials from a lithium-ion battery.
Putting paper, plastic, and glass out on the curb for recycling is easy. However, with a little bit of forethought, recycling electronics and batteries will take very little effort.