Batteries loaded with toxins

OUR lives these days seem to be run on batteries — laptops, mobile phones, toys and numerous electrical devices. 

It‘s estimated that 100 batteries are in each home in Ireland, in use or waiting to be recycled, according to European studies.

We recycle less than 40% of small waste batteries, but we need to hit a higher EU target by next year. These batteries can easily end up in the rubbish bin, but are also hoarded at home and not brought for recycling. Two out of three people in Ireland are still not recycling their small waste batteries.

Battery waste comes within the hazardous category can be damaging to human health and the environment. Too many batteries are not being properly disposed and are ending up in landfill. Chemicals in batteries include cadmium, lead, mercury and nickel. When battery casing corrodes, the chemicals leach into the soil and can end up in water supplies, and contaminate the atmosphere.

If chemicals get into water they can make it unfit for drinking, swimming, fishing and the welfare of wildlife. Toxic chemicals may also be released into the air and can cause cancers, birth defects and other damage to human health.

The European Association of National Collection Schemes for Batteries (Eucobat) and its Irish representative, WEEE Ireland, recently joined forces to ask Irish people to look around their homes and office for any small waste batteries that need to be recycled.

WEEE collected over 500 tonnes of waste portable batteries, in 2014, the equivalent in weight of 26 million AA-size batteries. More than 120 million such batteries were placed on the Irish market last year, about 30 per person. All of which shows a failure to recycle. Where are these millions of batteries hiding?

Over 2,500 tonnes of small waste batteries have been collected by WEEE Ireland since 2008. It has blue battery boxes in shops for recycling. Batteries can also be returned to civic amenity sites. Schools and workplaces also have battery boxes for easy recycling.

People are entitled to leave used batteries back free of charge to retail outlets selling equivalent batteries. You can go to the shop with a car battery if the only batteries they sell are for small gadgets. But, batteries must be accepted by retailers, regardless of where they were originally purchased.

In 2012, we surpassed the EU collection target of 25% of batteries recycled, but we are below the 40% collection rate for small waste battery recycling and have a new 45% EU target to reach by 2016. Belgium and the Netherlands have been recycling batteries for more than 20 years and report an annual takeback rate of over 60%. One sure thing is we’re unlikely to reduce battery use.


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