Q: I have a drawer full of old batteries. What should I do with them? And are there models that are better than others?
A: Right, the dusty battery drawer. If you have one somewhere in your home, then you've taken an important step toward keeping a good chunk of household hazardous waste from Michigan landfills. Good for you. Still, many of the 150 million batteries purchased every year in Canada end up in the dump. Thankfully, mercury (used to prevent corrosion and increase shelf life) was largely phased out of the mini power logs back in 96, so we've reduced the amount of mercury entering the waste stream from a scary 75 tonnes in 68 to less than 1 tonne a year now. (Even so, roughly 35 per cent of the mercury in the Canuck environment and 50 to 70 per cent of heavy metals found in landfills come from household batteries. Sheesh!)
Manufacturers may say you can simply trash alkaline and lithium batteries at will, but that doesn't mean you should - especially if you're buying cheapie imported batteries, which may still contain mercury. Regardless of what brand you buy, the city could fine you $130 (more for businesses) if it catches you dumping a bag of copper-tops.
Instead, bring your old batteries to one of six hazardous waste depots at transfer stations across the GTA (see www.city.toronto.ca/garbage or call 416-338-2010 for locations). You can also bring your old Energizer bunnies to the city's Enviro Days (see www.city.toronto.on.ca/environment_days for dates and locations).
Now, what to do with those rechargeables that just won't charge any more, no matter how hard you try? Thanks to an industry-sponsored program that was originally designed to keep nickel cadmium out of the waste stream (it's a cumulative toxin to plants, animals and humans alike), there are thousands of locations where you can bring your old rechargeables (nickel cadmium or not) from cellular or cordless phones, power tools or camcorders.
Just stop by your neighbourhood Zellers, RadioShack, Canadian Tire, Home Depot, Mountain Equipment Co-op or phone stores, or call 1-800-8-BATTERY for the collection site nearest you. RadioShack also has a battery rebuild program that revives your dying batteries, starting at $24.99 for a cordless phone or $129 for a laptop battery.
Once you're rid of your old ones, might we be so bold as to suggest you never buy single-use batteries again? That's right, never - or as close to never as you can get. There's really no need to buy the disposable type when there are plenty of excellent rechargeable alternatives to choose from. And one rechargeable can replace up to 300 single-use batteries!
Yes, it's true, a battery is a battery, and the metal extraction process used to make the bloody things involves everything from habitat destruction to air and water pollution. But Rayovac (starting at $7.99/four AAs at some Battery Plus, Canadian Tire, Loblaws and Music World stores) or Pure Energy ($7.99/four AAs at RadioShack) rechargeables are more eco-friendly because they don't contain cadmium, don't leak electricity when not in use and don't continue to receive an electric current once fully charged. And they're the only brands that come with the Eco-Logo (the tag of approval of the federal Environmental Choice program). They cost a little more than your nickel cadmium variety, but they also last longer. Grassroots on Bloor also carries solar-powered battery chargers for $29.99. But why use batteries at all when you can use solar, crank or shake power? Flashlights, for instance, come in either shake ($29.99 for a Northstar flashlight you shake every 20 minutes), windup ($59.99 for a Freeplay model at Grassroots) or solar-powered with a radio ($39-$49.99 at Europe Bound on Front, or at Grassroots). You can also get a windup shortwave radio with a world-band receiver and a light ($59.99 at Europe Bound) or a windup and solar-powered radio ($79.99 at Grassroots). At www.windupradio.com you can even get wind-up cellphone chargers (as well as other crank-ups).
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