Its a repugnent but undenialbe truth about the products that we use everyday…they come with a serious environmental price tag that we are barely paying the interest on! Any number of toys or electronic devices that have rechargeable batteries pose a serious risk to the ecosystem and of course our health when they are improperly disposed of. The stuff in those batteries is Hazardous Waste. Heavy metals in these batteries can leach from landfill sites where they enter and remain in the food chain, contaminating the bodies of everything they enter, causing cancers, birth defects, and a number of other serious health and environmental problems.
Now consider this fact: In a Statistics Canada report form 2005-06, an estimated 450 million batteries were sold in Canada in 2004, of which 348 million were thrown out with regular household waste. (The above statistic was cited in the March 29, 2008, Windsor Star, in an article by Sharon Hill. Sharon’s article also reports on the problem of prescription drug disposal and the problem of these drugs showing up in our drinking water).
The current system for helping these products find their way to Hazardous Waste facilities is so impractical that it doesn’t feel accessible for even the “Green Oriented” Folks in our society. Take my community for example, the household hazardous waste collection depot is a 30 minute drive from my home in a remote location, and it only accepts waste on sporadic occasions (to be fair they have a callendar, but the days and times are few and far between). So, I’ve got my batteries in a bag hanging in my laundry room. They have been accumulating since I moved here 9 years ago! While it may be true that if I really made the effort I could have taken them their already, but why would I? True, I have had other Hazardous Wastes that I was saving for propper disposal but the stores where they were sold offered to take these back (paint, tires and motor oil in these cases), and my local landfill site took my old refrigerator ( they have a contract with a service that pumps out the refrigerant).
Why don’t businesses take back the waste from products like batteries and small electronic devices for proper disposal? I realize that some do, but more don’t. If companies don’t have a foolproof plan take care of this aspect of the stuff they sell, then should they sell it?
Some of My Answers to This Problem:
- Refuse. Either refuse to buy products that are associated with serious environmental contamination or refuse to buy from companies that don’t have an effective program to deal with the Hazardous Wastes that their products generate.
- Reduce. Find ways to reduce your demand on consumer products that cause these problems. Can you borrow something or rent it only when you need it (considering the rental agency has a disposal plan). Can you find other ways to do things? Make a personal plan to reduce the number of things you have and the amount of time you spend using them (consider that it may improve the lifespan of the product and/or batteries).
- Grass Roots Community Action: Talk to your neighbours; ask if they have any hazardous waste. Educate each other and make sure everyone understands what is at stake and that this waste should be stored safely at home until taken to Hazarodous Waste Depot. Make a plan to take turns taking waste to facilities.
- Lobby government and local business. Tell them you won’t shop where there is no plan to deal with this waste. And you will only support candidates, political parties and governments that have a transparent and thoughtful environmental agenda.
- Demand It: “Disposal Service for What You Sell Plan”, where businesses would need an effective waste program to handle the discarded products that they sell. If a company didn’t have a program…then they wouldn’t be able to sell it; if consumers don’t put on the pressure to drive the change, then legislation must be considered.
I think Industry is on the right track with the Rechargeabe Battery Recycling Corporation and its Charge Up to Recycle Program. Its a licensing program that allows businesses that comply with the program to carry the “Charge Up to Recycle” logo. In a market driven economy they have realized that it makes good sense to be green and tell people about it. To be fair their are and have always been industry people who have been concerned with the environmnetal impacts of their activities just because they are good citizens. To read about the Charge up to Recylce Program and its success click here: Rechargeabe Battery Recycling Corporation press release . http://www.rbrc.org/call2recycle/releases/archived/11.3.98.html .
Better yet, to find a “Charge up to Recycle” centre call: 1-800-8-BATTERY or by go on-line at www.rbrc.org.
A Final Note
I’m not sure about the effectiveness of the above program in practice and I’m not clear about how they gaurantee that participants comply with the program. Nor do I know about other quality control measures in place to ensure that recycling of returned batteries actually gets done. Is it empty green marketing or the real deal? And who pays for it? I would feel better if I could tell people the answers to those questions. There are other programs out there and we should be aware of them and there should be accountability that addresses the questions above…and I’m sure my list of questions is far from comprehensive but its a start.
Consumers have power! We all have a lot at stake. Our children, our health, the quality of the food, water and air that we put into our bodies and of course there’s the planet. Lets do something to make a difference.
If you know of an innovative program, other readers might like to know!