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Why you can’t always throw AA batteries in the trash

There is no shortage of mixed messages about what to do with your dead alkaline batteries, which include AA, AAA, C, D, and 9 volts. Governments and battery manufacturers do not have consistent and clear policies for the disposal of alkaline batteries that power many of our small electrical devices like remote controls, flashlights, clocks and toys. They even differ depending on where you live.

Typical alkaline batteries like AAs include steel, zinc, manganese, potassium and graphite, according to Energizer, which sells alkaline batteries. Energy is generated when zinc and manganese interact.

Manganese is an essential nutrient, but at high levels it can have adverse health effects. Former manganese miners and smelters suffered permanent neurological damage. With any battery, there is a risk of chemicals leaching into soil, surface water, and groundwater. Polluted water and crops can lead to diseases like cancer. But alkaline batteries are not particularly toxic compared to other types of batteries.
The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes that in most communities, batteries are safe to put in the trash. But he recommends sending your alkaline batteries like AA to a battery recycler. Which doesn’t necessarily mean you can throw the batteries in your regular recycling bin.
A huge exception to this is California, which classifies batteries as hazardous waste. The state says they are dangerous due to the metals, toxic and corrosive materials the batteries contain. Residents are asked to take AA batteries and all batteries to the hazardous waste disposal facility. No other state also classifies batteries as hazardous waste. But some local governments call for the recycling of AA batteries and have programs to do so.
The District of Columbia is telling residents to drop off AA batteries for recycling at a designated location, but not in their recycling bins. Seattle residents are encouraged to take their AA batteries to hazardous waste facilities.

“Tossing a handful of batteries in the trash might not seem like a big deal, it adds up: approximately 180,000 tons of batteries are thrown away in the United States every year,” the city warns.

Other places like Chicago refuse to take alkaline batteries to recycling facilities.
Major metropolitan areas within a few hours of each other may have dramatically different policies. Austin, Texas warns that batteries should never be disposed of in dumpsters or curbside trash. Houston, Texas says it’s okay to throw batteries in the trash. Some retailers like Home Depot say you can dispose of alkaline batteries with regular trash.
Many places that ask to throw AA batteries in the trash say it’s reasonable because they no longer contain mercury following a 1996 law. (Mercury was previously in batteries to help prevent corrosion.) 1996 law also led to the creation of Call 2 Recycle, a non-profit organization originally created by battery manufacturers, which provides consumers with battery recycling options.

It’s not necessarily clearer what to do with your batteries if you check with the manufacturers. Duracell encourages customers to check local and national regulations, as well as to check recycling options.

Amazon sells AA batteries in its Basics line of products that include the symbol of a receptacle with a large X on it, which appears to be a trash can or recycling bin.

The crossed-out symbol means the product should be disposed of separately from household trash and typical recycling bins, according to Amazon spokeswoman Betsy Harden.

Harden added that Amazon recommends following EPA and local regulations.