Getting a charge from tool guy

September 26, 1998|By ROB KASPER

AL, A POSTER BOY for power-tool fans, came to the Baltimore area this week to urge the populace to recycle dead, rechargeable batteries.

Al is Richard Karn, the actor who plays the competent sidekick to the all-thumbs Tim Allen on the popular TV comedy "Home Improvement."

When I got word that Al was to coming town as a spokesman for a national outfit that encourages Americans to recycle batteries, I jumped on the story. I didn't have much competition for it because most journalists don't seem to regard the dead-battery beat as a ticket to fame, fortune and a regular gig on "Face the Nation."

I was interested because my household has more dead batteries than live ones.

So Wednesday of this week I had Al all to myself for at least 10 minutes before he made an appearance at Towson Town Center. We sat in the mall's security office and talked.

In this exclusive interview I was able to come up with these startling developments on the dead-battery front.

Even celebrities, like Al, have dead batteries in their homes.

Not all batteries are recyclable. Only the nickel-cadmium, or Ni-Cd, batteries -- the ones you can recharge -- can be recycled. These are commonly found in cordless power tools, camcorders, cellular and cordless telephones, and toys.

The alkaline batteries, the ones that can't be rejuvenated, have no afterlife. Folks with dead alkaline batteries in their homes should consult their local government-sponsored recycling office for information on proper disposal. Some jurisdictions, like Baltimore City, have designated certain days on which alkaline-battery users can bring out their dead.

In Baltimore, Saturday, Oct. 24, is the next "Household Hazardous Waste Drop Off Day." City workers will be stationed at the parking lots at Memorial Stadium and Poly-Western high school to take dead alkaline batteries and other household wastes off the hands of city residents and turn them over to a company that specializes in proper disposal of such materials.

Recyclable or born-again batteries are easy to spot because they have have the initials "RBRC." on them.

RBRC means Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp., which is a nonprofit outfit in Gainesville, Fla. It has a toll-free telephone number (800-822-8837) and a recording by Al that tells callers the location of a business in a nearby zip code where they can unload Ni-Cd batteries.

The way Al determines if a Ni-Cd battery is dead -- not merely in need of recharging -- is by doing the following. He recharges the battery, then slaps it in a portable power tool. If the battery doesn't hold the charge, it goes to the graveyard.

The reason Al wants to recycle nickel-cadmium batteries rather than toss them in the trash, is because cadmium is a heavy metal which, if burned in an incinerator or buried in a landfill, can be harmful to the environment.

(Al is backed up on this point by Carol Browner, administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency. As for alkaline batteries, Dale Thompson, Baltimore's recycling coordinator, says the dead ones have some toxic mercury in them and that is why officials also want to keep them out of landfills and incinerators.)

Having covered all the developments on the battery front, Al and I moved on to other topics. In other Al-related news I was able to come up with these findings:

Al can actually operate power tools; it is not just a TV stunt. He grew up in Seattle, where his father was in the home-construction business. Later, as a actor struggling to pay the rent, he put the skills his dad taught him to use. He landed a job, and a break on the rent, as the manager of an apartment complex in Los Angeles.

Al knew it was time to give up this job when his career took off and tenants began summoning him to their apartments just to impress their friends that their building had a TV celebrity as the manager.

Al spends his Saturday afternoons, like many dads, trying to balance the demands of family life with his desire to watch college football games on TV. Al said that today, for example, he will be trying to entertain his 6-year-old son while also trying to watch his alma mater, the University of Washington, play the Nebraska Cornhuskers on TV.

After the game, he will probably take his son to a mall, where they will drop off some dead batteries.

Pub Date: 9/26/98

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