At our recent Earth Day outreach, several Coop members stopped by and some had questions for us. We were collecting batteries for recycling (something the Food Coop does not normally do) and sending them off in a prepaid mailer to Waste Management, Inc. One person wanted to know:
What happens to the recycled batteries?
The recycling process starts by removing the combustible material, such as plastics and insulation, with a gas fired thermal oxidizer. Gases from the thermal oxidizer are sent to the plant's scrubber where they are neutralized to remove pollutants. The process leaves the clean, naked cells, which contain valuable metal content [nickel, chromium, iron].
The cells are then chopped into small pieces, which are heated until the metal liquefies. Non-metallic substances are burned off; leaving a black slag on top that is removed with a slag arm. The different alloys settle according to their weights and are skimmed off like cream from raw milk.
A related question came up at the Earth day table. Why do we pay money to have these things recycled?
Current battery recycling methods requires a high amount of energy. It takes six to ten times the amount of energy to reclaim metals from recycled batteries than it would through other means.
Battery recyclers claim that if a steady stream of batteries, sorted by chemistry, were available at no charge, recycling would be profitable. But preparation [sorting, which is a manual process] and transportation add to the cost.
You can search by zip for places to drop off batteries for recycling at Earth911.
***If you have questions for us, email us at ecokvetch@Yahoo.com