Ask the Eco Geek: Batteries

Photo: istockphoto.com/Ben Conlan

I have two young children and it seems we are constantly replacing batteries. I heard that newer technology has made my AAA, C and D batteries safe to put in our curbside garbage. Is that true?
Suzy Christie

"We don't consider any household battery safe [to go in the trash]," says Dennis Lam, Waste Supervisor, Hazardous Waste at Toronto's Solid Waste Management Services. "There might be reports they are safe, but in our opinion, they're not safe enough." The batteries you use to power your your kid's remote-control car may contain toxic metals like mercury, cadmium and lead or corrosive chemicals, and they're prone to breaking open after disposal, leaking dangerous heavy metals into city dumps. Ontario doesn't force manufacturers to take responsibility for the full life cycle of household products containing hazardous materials, so many manufacturers barely expend a thought on these toxic time bombs once they leave the shipping dock.

What to do? Curb your battery use, pick rechargeables and carefully dispose of dead ones. Many large retailers, such as The Home Depot feature rechargeable-battery collection sites in partnership with Call2Recycle and the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) to promote the recycling of rechargeable batteries and old cell phones. They have a handy listing to find a location near you.

The City of Toronto accepts batteries (and other hazardous materials such as paints or pharmaceuticals) at six Household Hazardous Waste depots (for locations go to ) and, for more than 10 litres of materials, also offers household pick-up through their Toxics Taxi program (call 416-392-4330). Some civic buildings, such as City Hall and Metro Hall, also have battery drop-off bins.

The nearly 40,000 kgs of batteries turned in to the city in 2004 were sent to an environmental-waste company to separate metal for recycling and "safe" disposal of the remaining elements.

Got a pressing environmental question? Ask Steve Bearton, journalist, environmental advocate and the Eco Geek!