The Department of Environmental Health is rolling out a small battery recycling and collection program this month as officials ask residents to separate their household batteries from the household trash to support the recycling initiative.
Some 180 battery collection containers will be available at supermarkets and schools in all three islands.
“Recycling is a key component to reduce overall waste volume,” said the Minister of Environmental Health Osbourne Bodden. “I am pleased that the Department of Environmental Health is adding another element to the recycling program.”
In the past, there was no program in place to stop small dry-cell batteries from being dumped in the 80-foot-high pile of household waste at the George Town Landfill.
Now, dry cell batteries including cellphones, cameras, flashlights, two-way radios, calculators, small cordless tools, and other personal digital devices, can be recycled through this new program.
“Once sufficient quantities of batteries are collected by the DEH, the batteries will be shipped and sold to a company in the USA that uses it for recycling,” said Tania Johnson, public education officer of the Department of Environmental Health.
Batteries bad for environment
For the past years, the department already had a recycling program in place for wet cell batteries, which are used to power cars, boats and motorcycles and considered toxic and hazardous to the environment.
Dry cell batteries, in turn, are used to power household electronics. Some common examples of dry-cell batteries are zinc-carbon and alkaline batteries.
Alkaline batteries account for 80 percent of manufactured batteries in the U.S. and over 10 billion individual units produced worldwide, according to a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2011.
These batteries contain heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, and lead, which can be harmful to the environment if improperly disposed in a landfill, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a federal government agency that aims to protect human health and the environment.
The manganese dioxide mixture and zinc powder contained in alkaline batteries makes them prone to leaking potassium hydroxide, which can be harmful to humans by causing chemical burns on skin or eyes.
Batteries can also pollute the air when incinerated.
New alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury following the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act passed in the United States in 1996. The law aimed to reduce the amount of heavy metals in municipal waste phased out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries, making them less of an environmental threat and, in turn, able to be disposed in household waste. However, the full environmental impact of dry cell batteries without mercury has not been determined.
California is one of the few U.S. states where it is illegal to dump used dry cell batteries in landfills. Residents are required to dispose of their household batteries at designated recycling drop off points.
To reduce the amount of alkaline batteries disposed of in landfills, the EPA recommends consumers use dry cell rechargeable batteries as opposed to single use or alkaline batteries.
California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery also encourages the use of rechargeable batteries.
“Rechargeable batteries are much better than they used to be. The higher capacity rechargeable batteries today have nearly three times the capacity of what was readily available a few years ago,” the department advises on its website. “Their capacity equals or exceeds ordinary single-use alkaline batteries.”
Most battery recycling programs either grind or melt batteries to separate and collect the reusable parts. Officials say the dry-cell batteries collection program was launched in Cayman to reduce the number of batteries currently piling up in the George Town Landfill.
“In order to remedy the situation, the DEH decided to procure new collection bins specifically for small batteries during the last fiscal year,” said Johnson of the DEH.
“These bins will allow the public to properly dispose of small batteries (instead of putting them in the garbage) and at the same time separate the batteries so that they can be collected and processed for recycling,” she added.
All batteries collected through the DEH recycling program will be shipped overseas where they will be melted and recycled into other products.
Battery manufacturers claim that recycling companies have not yet determined a profitable way to recycle single use or alkaline batteries, and as a result recycling centers offering services for alkaline batteries are far and few in between.
“Proven cost-effective and environmentally safe recycling processes are not yet universally available for alkaline batteries,” Duracell, a major distributor of alkaline batteries, says on its website.
As a result, most battery recycling organizations are either not for profit or charge for the safe recycling of alkaline batteries.
Earth911, an environmental news agency, lists 19 companies on its website that offer recycling services for alkaline batteries in the U.S.
Lighting Resources, one of the companies listed, offers recycling services for alkaline batteries through a mail-back program. Consumers can mail up to one gallon worth of dry cell batteries for a recycling fee of US$69.99.
Recycling alkaline batteries can recover steel and zinc, two valuable metals. But the value of the metals derived from the used batteries is not sufficient to cover the operating costs generated through the recycling process.
Battery Solutions, another recycling company based in the in the U.S., recycles up to 33 pounds of alkaline batteries for US$65, equivalent to more than US$4,400 per ton. More than 125,000 tons of alkaline battery waste are produced in the U.S. per year.
Battery Solutions says “alkaline batteries are recycled in a specialized ‘room temperature,’ mechanical separation process where the battery components are separated into three end products.” These items are zinc and manganese concentrate, steel, paper and plastic. All of these products are put back into the market place for reuse in new products, the company states.
Rechargeable batteries are more profitable to recycling companies than single use batteries as they hold their end-of-life value.
Another major company that recycles rechargeable batteries in the U.S. is Call2Recycle. The nonprofit collects rechargeable batteries and cellphones through a no-cost recycling program. The company offers battery collection boxes through a network of over 30,000 retailers in the U.S. and Canada, similar to the scheme in Cayman but on a much larger scale.
“Many residents and visitors are supportive of our current recycling program,” said Cayman’s DEH Director Roydell Carter.
Once the bins are placed at the locations, the information will be posted on the DEH website at www.deh.gov.ky and on the department’s Facebook page.