By Liesl Clark
The average American has at least 10 batteries in their possession at any given time and throws away 8 batteries per year. Should we recycle batteries? Absolutely, for the mercury and cadmium in our batteries can wreak havoc on the environment. According to the Environmental Health and Safety Organization, “In landfills, heavy metals have the potential to leach slowly into soil, groundwater or surface water. Dry cell batteries contribute about 88 percent of the total mercury and 50 percent of the cadmium in the municipal solid waste stream.” By recycling batteries, we’re ensuring those heavy metals are captured again and kept from heading into our waters.
Batteries, whether they power our cell phones, laptop computers, or flashlights at night are an essential part of our everyday lives. Finding the nearest place to dispose of them is now easier, through services like our own Trash Backwards app, that’ll point you to recycling facilities like Ikea for alkaline batteries and Staples for rechargeables and cell phone batteries. Do use our curated resource to help you safely dispose of all of your batteries, including button batteries (which should go to your household hazardous waste facility) and car batteries. We even have resources on how to prolong the life of your battery or you can read up on the history of battery invention worldwide.
In Nepal, where we travel each year, batteries are what enable us to make our documentaries for National Geographic. Without that stored electrical power, we couldn’t run our filming expeditions. Batteries, whether rechargeable, alkaline, gel cell, or lithium are essential to our mission. Each one is carried back down from the mountains and reused on future expeditions. The spent batteries are taken home with us for safe disposal since there’s no battery recycling in Nepal. In the Himalaya, we’ve seen batteries regularly discarded outside villages in the rivers and streams. Our aim, this spring, is to set up a battery recycling program in the kingdom of Mustang, one of the highest watersheds in the world. We hope to get each village to collect their batteries and stockpile them. Trekking agencies heading out of the kingdom with their clients can take a bag or 2 of these batteries downhill to be disposed of responsibly in Kathmandu or Pokhara, two of the largest urban centers in Nepal. Better yet, trekkers could take batteries home with them to recycle them in their home countries. The crisis of battery waste build-up in some of our most pristine wilderness regions needs to be addressed by everyone who lives and travels through these fragile environments.
The next time you see a battery lying on the ground, whether it’s in a parking lot, on a trail in the wilderness, or outside a rural village, think of our planet as one interconnected ecosystem. All water, and whatever might have leached into it, travels downhill. If we address, globally, the most toxic materials first and then work our way down the waste chain to the more innert ones, we have a place to start and a set of priorities to follow. If you’re interested, do check back in with us on Facebook to see how we do this month with our battery recovery project in Nepal. And if you’d like to help us, please donate, even a few dollars, to our battery rescue operation through the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation.