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Recharge and Recycle - January 22, 2017

Do you have old electronics and used batteries laying around your home and office but do not know what to do with them? As we transition to newer technology those box TVs, computer monitors, and corded phones are being replaced by wireless and more compact models. In addition to filtering out the older models, some people prefer to have the most current model. Along with all of these new electronics, we are also using more and more batteries. So where should all of this waste go when it breaks or a new model is produced?

If your electronics are still functioning, the best option is to donate. Many schools, community centers, and nonprofits do not have the budget to purchase new computers and other equipment. Through donation these products would be given a second life and kept out of the waste stream for a longer period of time. As an added bonus this acts as a tax incentive. Before donating, call to see if there is a need for a particular electronic at that organization.

If the product is unusable, it should be recycled. Recycling electronics conserves our natural resources and prevents toxic material from leaching into our soil, water, and air. For every one million cell phones that are recycled, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered for use in future products. Many manufacturers and retailers offer options for recycling electronics. Donating and recycling electronics prevents valuable materials from entering landfills and causing environmental issues. Additionally, it reduces the amount of pollution and lessens the need for raw materials to make new products. Electronic recycling is free to Worcester county residents. Drop off locations include the Berlin Homeowners Recycling Drop-Off Center, the Central Landfill, Pocomoke City Homeowners Recycling Drop-Off Center, and Snow Hill Homeowners Recycling Drop-Off Center. 

With numerous electronics, batteries have become an essential part of our daily lives. Every year, Americans throw out around 180,000 tons of predominately single use batteries. While single use batteries are cheaper and more easily accessible, they are a more wasteful use of materials. Rechargeable batteries are expensive but save consumers money over the lifetime of the battery. Rechargeable batteries contain higher concentrations of heavy metals, meaning that if they are not recycled they contaminate the environment through leaching in landfills.

Currently, California is the only state to classify all batteries as hazardous and illegal to throw away. While it is currently legal in Maryland to throw away single use batteries, all batteries should be disposed of responsibly. The best option is to recycle single use batteries as well as rechargeable ones. In the past recycling batteries consumed more energy and released greenhouse gas emissions, outweighing the benefits of recycling. However, with technological advances, making batteries from recycled materials is less energy intensive than mining original materials. Even though single use batteries are not considered toxic, they still contain reusable material including the plastic coating, metal, zinc, and manganese. These materials are used in a variety of products such as new batteries, sunblock, and dietary supplements. Unfortunately, only ten to twelve percent of the 70 million pounds of batteries sold annually in North America are recycled.

Recycling rechargeable batteries such Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Lithium Ion (Li-ion), and Small Sealed Lead Acid (SSLa/Pb) is easily done due to the Battery Act. Many distributors of electronics accept rechargeable batteries for recycling. All materials from rechargeable batteries are recycled and reused. In Worcester County, the Home Depot, Market of Maryland, Staples, Delmarva Two Way Radio, and Rommel’s Ace Home Center accept rechargeable batteries. Wicomico County residents can drop off rechargeable batteries at Teltronic Inc., Sears, Pasco Battery Warehouse, Ferguson Enterprises, Lowes, and Staples.

Single use batteries used to be more toxic due to large amounts of mercury in them. Today, the amount of mercury in batteries is little to none which makes it more difficult to recycle. Recycling services are available, such the Big Green Box and iRecycle kit that are offered online. Boxes are filled with old alkaline batteries and sent off to a recycling center at the cost of the sender. At this time there are limited free options to recycle alkaline batteries, and proven cost effective and environmentally safe recycling programs are not yet universally available.

Recycling is about minimizing waste and reusing materials to reduce environmental impacts, both in terms of recapturing valuable metals and preventing pollution. A broad behavioral change needs to occur in which everyone that uses electronics and batteries share a level of responsibility in their disposal. To assist in this mission, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is now accepting alkaline single use batteries for recycling free of charge. Any D-cell, C-cell, AA, AAA, and 9-volt batteries are accepted. There will be a collection box at the office and batteries can be dropped off Monday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. Our address is 8219 Stephen Decatur Highway Berlin, MD 21811.

Rice is the former Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 



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