EarthTalk: I've heard that it is now safe to
throw away common household batteries and that only rechargeable
batteries can now be recycled. Is this true? -- Doug
Reynolds, Martinsville, IN
Today’s common household batteries--those ubiquitous
AAs, AAAs, Cs, Ds and 9-volts from Duracell, Energizer and
others--are not thought to pose as great a threat to properly-equipped
modern landfills as they used to because they contain much
less mercury than their predecessors. As such most municipalities
now recommend simply throwing such batteries away with your
Nevertheless, environmentally concerned consumers might feel
better recycling such batteries anyway, as they still do contain
trace amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic stuff.
Some municipalities will accept these batteries (as well as
older, more toxic ones) at household hazardous waste facilities,
from where they will most likely be sent elsewhere to be processed
and recycled as components in new batteries.
Other options abound, such as the mail-order service, Battery
Solutions, which will recycle your spent batteries at a cost
of 85 cents per pound. To find a company near you where you
can drop off your old batteries for recycling, check out the
comprehensive national database at the Earth911.org website.
Meanwhile, the national chain, Batteries Plus, is happy to
take back disposable batteries for recycling at any of its
255 retail stores from coast-to-coast.
Consumers should note that any old batteries they may find
buried in their closets that were made before 1997--when Congress
mandated a widespread mercury phase-out in batteries of all
types--should most surely be recycled and not discarded with
the trash, as they may contain as much as 10 times the mercury
of newer versions.
Perhaps of greater concern nowadays is what’s happening
to spent rechargeable batteries from cell phones, MP3 players
and laptops. Such items contain potentially toxic heavy metals
sealed up inside, and if thrown out with the regular garbage
can jeopardize the environmental integrity of both landfills
and incinerator emissions. Luckily, the battery industry sponsors
the operations of the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation
(RBRC), which facilitates the collection of used rechargeable
batteries collected in an industry-wide “take back”
program for recycling.
Consumers can help by limiting their electronics purchases
to items that carry the RBRC logo on their packaging. Furthermore,
they can find out where to drop off old rechargeable batteries
(and even old cell phones) by calling RBRC's hotline at 1-800-8BATTERY
or by visiting the online drop location finder at RBRC.org.
Also, most Radio Shack stores will take back rechargeable
batteries and deliver them to RBRC free-of-charge. RBRC then
processes the batteries via a thermal recovery technology
that reclaims metals such as nickel, iron, cadmium, lead and
cobalt, repurposing them for use in new batteries.
CONTACTS: Battery Solutions, www.batteryrecycling.com;
Batteries Plus, www.batteriesplus.com;
Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC), www.rbrc.org.
Is it true that logging companies have switched
their focus from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeastern
United States? And what have been the environmental effects?
-- David Older, New York, NY
When the logging business began to die down in the Pacific
Northwest beginning in the 1980s, timber companies started
looking increasingly to the southeastern United States for
the wood pulp it would need to satisfy the rapidly expanding
global demand for paper. Today, just two decades later, more
logging is conducted in the Southeast than anywhere else in
the world and Southeast pulpwood is in three quarters of all
paper sold in the U.S.
What makes all the logging in the U.S. Southeast so egregious
is not so much the sheer amount of wood harvested, but the
destruction of biodiversity that the creation of single-species
wood plantations in the region has wrought. Prior to the arrival
of Europeans in the so-called New World, the Southeast played
host to the highest tree species diversity on the continent.
But a 2001 study by the U.S. Forest Service found that 40
percent of the region’s formerly diverse native pine
forests have been turned into intensively managed single-species
pulp plantations designed for maximum yield of wood pulp for
According to esteemed Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson,
plantation forests are 90 to 95 percent less biologically
diverse than natural forests. One problem with this scenario
is susceptibility to pests and disease. For instance, the
invasive pine bark beetle has thrived across the Southeast
as mixed forests have been clear cut and replaced with its
favorite delicacy, pulp-friendly loblolly pine. The logging
industry has, in turn, used the beetle infestation as an excuse
to “salvage-log” much of the timber in the region,
including that which has been unaffected by the beetles. The
result has been ongoing problems with erosion on forest lands
and watershed damage.
The end product of all this activity, postage stamp-sized
wood chips, often ends up exported to Japan and used to make
toilet paper, says Allen Hershkovitz of the Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC). “Most consumers don't even think
about the fact that toilet paper comes from trees,”
Stemming the tide of biodiversity loss in the region is an
uphill battle because 90 percent of the affected forests in
the Southeast are on private land. While advocacy groups like
NRDC successfully lobbied to limit logging on public lands
in the Pacific Northwest, which is partly what drove the industry
south, they have had a much more difficult time convincing
the more than five million private forestland owners in the
Southeast to adopt more environmentally sound practices.
NRDC is working with a coalition of advocacy groups in the
region, such as the Dogwood Alliance and ForestEthics, to
create public awareness as well as a boycott of tissue made
from Southeastern forests. Such boycotts were effective in
the past at getting home improvement superstores to limit
their procurement of virgin timber from the Pacific Northwest,
but it is too early to tell whether such actions can help
the ailing forests of the Southeast.
CONTACTS: The Dogwood Alliance, www.dogwoodalliance.org;
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), www.nrdc.org.