Batteries are used every day in a variety of different devices. They allow us to charge an object and store power for later use. While batteries are a big part of daily human life they also present a challenge to society in terms of environmental sustainability. Not only do these batteries have harmful chemicals which can end up in landfills, but they also encourage over consumption because the more products you buy, the more batteries you need, and the more batteries must be produced. Most batteries are not created and disposed of in an environmentally sustainable manner. For this reason we have come up with three ways in which one could reduce the environmental impact of batteries: waste management, alternative batteries, and alternative power sources.
Waste management is a big part of the problem when it comes to the environmental impacts of batteries. Batteries account for a disproportionate amount of toxic heavy metal waste in household solids. Many of these toxic heavy metals are on the USA Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals (BPTs) and have huge environmental impacts; therefore, it would be beneficial to mitigate their use. However, in the short-term at the very least, these batteries are going to continue to exist. For this reason, the best way to mitigate the harms of their continued use is to improve the rate at which they are recycled by expanding the number of locations that recycle batteries and by encouraging the involvement of manufacturers in this process.
To improve the rate at which batteries are recycled one must improve the accessibility to recycling centers. If people are not able to locate and conveniently access a place that recycles batteries, they will not recycle them. While lead acid batteries have high recycling rates in most countries (although these have their own associated problems which we will get to later), non-lead acid batteries have very low recycling rates, partially because of the costs associated with recycling the specific materials. For this reason there are often shortages of plants that recycle non-lead acid batteries. The best way to fix this is to have government participation in the recycling of batteries. If governments can help offset some of the costs associated with recycling batteries, more batteries can be recycled. A great example of the effect government participation can have is what is currently taking place in Belgium. In Belgium, the government began a program called Bebat. This program collects used batteries from registered companies at Bebat stations. The program is financed through an environmental fee levied on the sale of each battery. Belgium has one of the highest rates of recycling batteries of all EU countries. If the government can improve the number of facilities that recycle batteries, people are far more likely to recycle these products. They could also encourage retailers to accept dead batteries like the Home Depot does. The government could make it mandatory to have battery collection in every municipality. Although it is probably not possible for every municipality to have a factory that recycles batteries it is possible for them to ship out collected batteries to recycling facilities nearby. This reduces the amount of these PBTs that must be mined and reduces their bioaccumulative impact on the area. While expanding the number of available recycling centers is important, it is also important that suppliers take a role in making it easy for the public to recycle its products.
In reducing the accumulative buildup of PBTs from batteries, it is important that manufacturers take an active role in rendering their products easy to recycle. This could easily be fixed by having legislation to ensure all products using batteries have packaging stating how to find their nearest recycling center. In making batteries more recyclable, manufacturers...
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