It is something of a sad irony that batteries – so often touted as the one of the main solutions to some of our myriad environmental problems – are themselves composed of pretty toxic materials. Batteries – especially rechargeable batteries – are a sure way to avoid racking up energy bills or relying on power sourcesthat are unsustainable. This is indeed true, and everything from the small USB Type C rechargeable D smart batteries to the large multi-celled li-ion behemoths inside electric carscan all be considered a form of sustainable energy. But when the time comes to dispose of them, we have not yet found a way of doing this sustainably.
One of the solutions, of course, is simply to make batteries as long-lasting as possible. Pale Blue Earth out of Park City, Utah, producers of the aforementioned rechargeable household batteries, make the case that their products are indeed a step in the right direction. This is simply because the alternative – non-rechargeable batteries or inefficient rechargeable batteries – will have a consumer disposing of these environmentally harmful materials more often.
However, whenwe start talking about the larger batteries such as those inside EVs, the problem is far from settled. Moreover, as a consumer, one way to become part of the solution is to learn just how batteries are toxic to the environment when they are disposed of.
The Great EV Challenge
The situation can begin to look even more perilous when we consider the disposal of certain batteries thatare soon to become ubiquitous. Consider the electric vehicle: EVs have a massive highly advanced battery inside, and these are indeed great for powering a car to a level of performance in advance of the traditional gas-powered engine. But when that battery finally runs out, disposing of it poses a serious environmental challenge.
That sounds bad enough, but what about when we consider that most car companies have pledged to do away with gas-powered vehicles by some point around the 2030s? At that juncture, the roads will be full of as many EVs as there are today gas-powered cars. Thatmeans a huge global mass of EV batteries which will eventually degrade to the point where they need to be disposed of. Until we can find away of recycling them, an environmental disaster is waiting in the wings.
Hazards of Battery Disposal
So, as mentioned, one of the best ways to become a more responsible consumer, and toin some small waytake the future into your own hands, is to be knowledgeable about just why batteries are toxic to the environment. Here follows two ways in which disposed-of batteries can affect the environment.
Toxic Heavy Metals
Batteries contain heavy metals, whether that be lead, nickel, cadmium, mercury or – in the case of the latest batteries – lithium. Lithium is perhaps the one to watch out for mostas it is the one metal from this list that is not likely to be replaced any time soon. Lithium is toxic to the environment and even the metal in the casings can degrade and pollute soil and waterways.
We have mentioned that the disposal of the massive li-ion batteries in EVs is going to cause a future environmental challenge. But even today (and amongthe smallest of batteries) there is still the issue of the sheer numbers involved. Millions of small batteries are disposed of in the U.S. every year – and they are not recycled.
There is no doubt that this is a challenge to overcome. Battery power could be an environmental savior – but only after this massive obstacle has been cleared.