Dispensing with the indispensable

April 20, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Depending on how old you are, your grandmother would probably be amazed to see you in your 21st-century kitchen:

You talk to a friend via a wireless phone while you mix up the recipe for her wonderful pound cake with your cordless mixer. Smooth jazz from a portable radio provides soothing background music. Your son plays a hand-held video game, and your daughter sits at the kitchen table, surfing the Internet on her laptop computer.

Batteries. Count 'em. There were five in use in that single domestic scene.

Batteries, devices that produce electricity by chemical action, have become a virtually indispensable part of modern life. They can last a long time - going and going and going. But eventually, they stop producing electricity.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that billions of batteries are bought, used and thrown out every year.

Is that OK?

Harvey Hoch, Washington County recycling programs coordinator, says yes - if you're talking about the most commonly used alkaline batteries. "In the old days," there was mercury in household batteries, he says.


That would be an issue if solid waste were to be incinerated.

The addition of mercury in batteries became illegal in the United States under 1996 federal battery legislation.

In Washington County, solid waste is "landfilled," Hoch says. Household batteries can be thrown out with your trash.

Shepherd Environmental Organization is a group comprised mostly of Shepherd College environmental studies majors, according to Chris Eurice, a junior at the Shepherdstown, W.Va., college.

The group organized Earth Fest, Friday, April 18, and Saturday, April 19, on the west campus of the school. There were to be games, environmental demonstrations, hybrid vehicles and speakers, as well as an opportunity to recycle household batteries - even though they can be landfilled, Eurice said in a phone interview last week.

"We just want to try to cut down on hazardous waste," he says.

Battery manufacturers are producing more rechargeable batteries every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Rechargeable batteries can be recycled, and Washington County plans to have drop-off boxes eventually at the Forty West Landfill and at the Greensburg Convenience Center, Hoch says.

Meanwhile, the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) is a nonprofit organization that can help individuals recycle portable rechargeable batteries. The group's Web site, at, includes a state-by-state listing of drop-off sites. Call to make sure the listings are updated and that the site accepts the type of battery you want to recycle.

RadioShack stores in Hagerstown and Chambersburg, Pa., and Battery Mart in Martinsburg, W.Va., are among the merchants that accept some rechargeable batteries.

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