Program big boost to battery recycling

Rechargeables: A group is making headway getting people to take spent cells to retail drops.

January 02, 2003|By Margo Harakas | Margo Harakas,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Americans are increasingly unplugged, using on average five cordless electronic products every day.

In just three years, says Ralph Mallard, executive vice president of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp., America's reliance on cordless electronics has increased nearly 75 percent.

Everything from cell phones, camcorders and laptop computers to razors, toothbrushes and remote-controlled toys are powered by rechargeable batteries. That means a heap of toxic material, including cadmium and lead, to dispose of once the batteries are spent.

We are talking here of rechargeable batteries, not the standard alkaline batteries used in flashlights and some toys. Those, says Joel King, household hazardous waste coordinator for Broward County, Fla., "have been re-engineered over time to be more environmentally friendly, and can be disposed of safely with the rest of the household garbage and trash."

But the rechargeables still present a problem.

The good news is they are recyclable, and thanks to Mallard's group, getting those batteries into the recycling stream is as easy as walking into a Target, Sears, RadioShack, Circuit City, Best Buy, Home Depot or Wal-Mart store. More than 35,000 retail outlets in the United States and Canada are participating in the program.

"We like to tell people, if you're headed to the mall to RadioShack ... to buy a cordless phone, that's the time to take the old rechargeable battery in and leave it to be recycled."

The nonprofit public service organization was founded in 1994 for the express purpose of recycling rechargeable batteries. Its seal, complete with hotline number, now appears on packaging and on the cordless products themselves.

So far, says Mallard, "We've recycled over 20 million pounds of batteries, which is well over 40 million individual batteries."

The environmental concerns are toxicity and resource conservation. "We have the ability to recycle all rechargeable batteries. ... We can do it, so we should do it," he says.

Mallard says that once people learn how easy it is to do the right thing, they will.

"In August, the latest month for which we have figures, we had 31,000 visitors to our Web site, and over 16,000 calls. That's 45,000 people who have taken the initiative to find us."

Having made that effort, chances are, he says, they will follow through with recycling.

Margo Harakas writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing paper.

Battery tips

You can maximize the life of your batteries and minimize negative impact on the environment by following a few hints offered by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp.:

Always follow charging instructions provided with your particular product or equipment.

Make sure a discharged battery has cooled to room temperature before recharging; otherwise the battery won't fully recharge.

Recharge only when the battery is near or fully discharged. Giving an extra recharge boost to a fully charged battery will shorten its life.

Never leave cell phones, radios, camcorders or other equipment in the charger when not charging them unless the manufacturer recommends doing so.

Clean the contacts of rechargeable batteries with a cloth soaked in alcohol.

Don't throw rechargeable batteries in the trash. Recycle them. To find the nearest dropoff site call the RBRC help line at 800-8-BATTERY or go online at

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