Science & Technology

The environmental toll of batteries

Batteries are making concerns on the new type of environment threatening pollution.

The world is drowning in batteries. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each year Americans throw away more than three billion of them. These days electric vehicles can have batteries weighing up to 275 lbs. According to Consumer Reports, at least 361,307 electric cars including hybrids were sold in the US. That is a big increase in amount from the previous year in 2017 when only 199,826 were sold. Electric vehicles are seen as a healthy for the environment, but those batteries are toxic.

Our use of batteries has increased exponentially as ever more wireless devices enter our lives. When people wake up in the morning the first thing many do before getting out of bed is go on a mobile device being either a phone or tablet. These devices are powered by batteries that charge and deplete, and are eventually discarded. Improper disposal of batteries can have a serious effect on our environment. 

It isn’t that batteries don’t help. They are helping reduce air pollution, for example. Many engines that used to run off fuel, from cars to chainsaws, lawn mowers and weed eaters, now have an electric alternative, reducing the burning of fossil fuels. 

While electric cars like Teslas are releasing less pollution into the air, a Tesla car battery contains toxic metals and corrosive materials which are all very harmful to the environment. Once a car is taken apart, most of the time the batteries are not recycled properly and still contain 80% of battery capacity. 

In 2017, according to Forbes, over a million electric cars were sold all over the world, which is good news in terms of emitting less CO2 gas into the atmosphere, but those vehicles will, over time, result in 250,000 tons of scrapped batteries. 

Beyond environmental hazards, battery disposal also creates safety hazards. In 2018 in New Brunswick, a worker at a landfill was nearly exposed to toxic chemicals due to an exploding lithium battery. He saw a fire in the trash pile and put it out with a fire extinguisher. Then, when he was raking the trash pile, the battery exploded, covering him in “black gunk.” Luckily he wasn’t injured. If small batteries are exploding in landfills and causing small fires, then it is likely for used car batteries if ended up in the trash will have a higher chance and more dangerous explosion. 

But there are other alternatives than sending them to the trash. According to FleetCarma, in Japan, Nissan repurposed batteries to power streetlights. This is just one of the many ways companies are reusing old car batteries that are unable to be used on the road. FleetCarma also states that a manufacturing company in Paris, Renault, has batteries backing up elevators. Recycled batteries will also be used to power car charging stations in the state of California, and storing energy for homes and grids in Europe. London-based storage recycling research group Circular Energy Storage has estimated that by 2030, 1.2 million tons of Lithium-ion batteries will have reached the end of their lifespan. Hopefully the world will be prepared to deal with huge amount of toxic products we are creating.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

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