There’s no shortage of conflicting messages about what to do with your dead alkaline batteries, including AA, AAA, C, D, and 9 volts. Governments and battery manufacturers do not have consistent and clear policies for disposing of the alkaline batteries that power many of our small electrical appliances, such as remote controls, flashlights, clocks and toys. They even differ depending on where you live.
Typical alkaline batteries like AAs are steel, zinc, manganese, potassium and graphite, according to Energizer, which sells alkaline batteries. Energy is created when zinc and manganese interact.
Manganese is an essential nutrient, but in high concentrations it can have adverse health effects. Former manganese miners and smelters have suffered permanent neurological damage. With every battery there is a risk that chemicals will end up in the soil, surface water and groundwater. Polluted water and crops can lead to diseases such as cancer. But alkaline batteries are not particularly toxic compared to other battery types.
The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that in most communities, batteries are safe to throw in the trash. But it recommends sending your alkaline batteries like AAs to a battery recycler. Which doesn’t necessarily mean you can throw the batteries in your regular trash.
A major exception to this is California, which classifies batteries as hazardous waste. The state says they are dangerous because of the metallic, toxic and corrosive materials that batteries contain. Residents are instructed to take AA and all batteries to the waste treatment facilities. No other state also classifies batteries as hazardous waste. But some local governments advocate recycling AA batteries and have programs in place to do so.
The District of Columbia tells residents to drop off AA batteries for recycling at a designated location, but not in their recycling bins. Seattle residents are encouraged to take their AA batteries to hazardous waste facilities.
“Throwing a handful of batteries in the trash may not seem like such a big deal, it’s true: about 180,000 tons of batteries are thrown away in the US every year,” the city warns.
Other places like Chicago refuse to take alkaline batteries to recycling facilities.
Major urban areas within hours of each other can have dramatically different policies. Austin, Texas warns that batteries should never be thrown into dumpsters or street trash. Houston, Texas, says it’s okay to throw batteries in the trash. Some retailers, such as Home Depot, say you can throw alkaline batteries in your regular trash.
Many places urging to throw AA batteries in the trash say it’s reasonable because they no longer contain mercury under a 1996 law. (Mercury used to be in batteries to help prevent corrosion.) The 1996 law also led to the founding of Call 2 Recycle, a non-profit organization originally founded by battery manufacturers that provides consumers with battery recycling options.
Also, what to do with your batteries isn’t necessarily clearer when you contact manufacturers. Duracell encourages customers to check local and national regulations and consider recycling options.
Amazon sells AA batteries under its Basics line of products that have a bin symbol with a big X over it, which looks like it’s a garbage can or trash can.
According to Amazon spokesperson Betsy Harden, the crossed-out symbol means that the product must be disposed of separately from household waste and the usual recycling bins.
Harden added that Amazon recommends following EPA and local regulations.
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