The Household Battery Collection Program was developed to divert mercury and other heavy metals from the waste stream. Household batteries contain an estimated 88% of the mercury present in municipal solid waste nationwide (EPA 1989).
The two-part collection program began in the Fall of 1990. Drop-off battery collection sites have been established at many locations throughout the county. An agent from the Solid Waste Management Department collects the batteries on a regular schedule.
Household batteries are also collected weekly along with the curbside recyclables. Residents are asked to seal the batteries in a plastic bag and put it on top of their collection bin. The curbside collection drivers place the batteries in a special container on their trucks.
Small “button cell” batteries (watches, hearing aids, cameras, etc.) are sent to a specialized metals refinery for recycling. The remainder of the batteries are shipped to a hazardous waste landfill.
Used Lead-acid Batteries:
A normal lead-acid vehicle battery contains about 20 lbs. of lead and one gallon of lead-contaminated sulfuric acid. The disposal of these discarded batteries is problematic. In a landfill, the lead can leach into the ground water, and old batteries are the major source of lead in ash from waste to energy plants.
The disposal problem has been solved in Washington by making it illegal, to the tune of a $1000 fine, to dispose of a vehicle battery except through a state authorized dealer or a secondary smelter. Upon buying a new vehicle battery in Washington state you will be charged a $5.00 core charge if you do not trade in your old battery. In addition to new battery dealers, authorized recycling centers and battery companies will take old batteries. They can also be brought to the Household Hazardous Waste area at the transfer stations or the Waste-to-Energy Plant.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Mines, over 70% of the lead consumed nationally in 1986 went into making storage batteries. Batteries are big business. Since there are no secondary lead smelters in Washington at this time, the used batteries are trucked out of state or shipped to the Far East. At the smelter the lead core is extracted from the plastic casing and re-smelted. The acid in the battery is separated and treated. The reclaimed lead goes back into the manufacture of new batteries.
The dry-cell battery program collects from households and small quantity generators. Households can use their curbside recycling, the Household Hazardous Waste facilities, or hardware store drop-offs to dispose of the batteries. Place the batteries in a plastic bag before placing in your BinGee.
Business Small Quantity Generators can either be on a battery collection pick-up or they can bring the batteries into the Solid Waste Management Department's facility.
All of the batteries are brought to a central location where the button and nickel-cadmium batteries are sorted out for recycling and the remaining dry-cells are shipped to a hazardous waste landfill.