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Batteries form an ongoing elememnt of our rubbish removal requirements are found in almost every room of our home and since the first battery was created by Alessandro Volta in 1798 they have become an essential part of our life. The concept of a portable power pack has led to the invention of many other items, for example, Conrad Hubert, of EverReady battery fame, invented the torch, after EverReady introduced the D-size battery.

The word battery may have origins in even more ancient history and was first used by Ben Franklin to describe Leyden Jars – power sources of his time. Franklin chose the word to echo the sense of multiple components working together – like the battery of a battlefield.

The real change came about in 1802 when William Cruickshank invented a method of mass production, which meant batteries were available to the public for general use.

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Recycling batteries 

The innate usefulness of the battery means there are an awful lot of them around. In the UK alone every person uses around ten batteries each year and it’s estimated that over 600 million batteries are thrown away annually.

battery recycling

Why is it so important to recycle batteries? 

We need to reduce carbon emissions to avoid the destruction of the planet. Part of this is achieved by recycling.

Battery facts

In the UK

• 40,000 tons of batteries were sold in 2020
• 18,000 tons of batteries were recycled
• The remaining 22,000 went to landfill

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What happens to batteries in landfill? 

The first thing to know is that batteries contain a number of chemicals, including lead, cadmium, zinc, lithium, and mercury. As batteries begin to break down, these chemicals are leached out into the earth, which will pollute the soil that grows our food, and the waterways that feed animals, plants, and birdlife. Throwing batteries into landfills poisons the earth.

What happens to batteries when we recycle? 

Recycling means the battery can be made into something new. Here are some examples:

• Iron in all battery types can be recovered and refashioned into new items
• Manganese oxide can be processed to recover the zinc oxide, which will be used in plastics and ceramics
• Cadmium is reused to make new batteries
• Nickel is reused to make steel
• Cobalt and copper can be recovered from lithium batteries and reused in a number of ways
• Mercury can be recovered and decontaminated to make steel

As well as reducing the distribution of harmful chemicals into the earth, recycling batteries means we can reduce the amount of metal and mineral extraction, further reducing the damage we do.

How do you recycle your batteries? 

In 2010 new laws came into place that meant many businesses (retail shops and supermarkets) began to offer a recycling service. In addition to these businesses, many town halls, schools, libraries community centres have set up battery collection and recycling schemes.

Many local authorities also offer battery recycling. You can find out where to recycle batteries in your area by typing your postcode into the Recycling Locator.

It’s important to dispose of batteries with care, and if you are recycling a lithium battery, or button battery it’s essential that you tape up the terminal to minimise the risk of fire.

What are the alternatives to using batteries? 

It is possible to make a battery out of a potato, but you’ll find the power supply somewhat limited. One of the best things you can do to reduce battery waste is to make the switch to rechargeables. The first rechargeable battery was invented in 1859 by French physicist Gaston Plante. Plante created the lead-acid cell, (still used in cars to this day) which lead to the invention of the NiMH and NiCD batteries as well as lithium-ion batteries, all of which can be recharged.

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Are rechargeable batteries really better? 

As with anything, the honest answer is “it depends” – things like the amount of energy draw and frequency of change need to be weighed up. Having said that, there are many household items, especially things like radios or lights, that use up a lot of battery energy. When we consider that a rechargeable battery can hold up to 800 charging cycles, then it’s easy to see how this option can reduce waste, and when they do reach the end of their life, rechargeables can be recycled in the same way as regular batteries.

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