Ask an Environmentalist: How do you recycle used batteries and lightbulbs?

If you’ve been following environmental trends lately, you know that it’s important to “recycle right.” 

Things that make their way into your recycling bin, but aren’t supposed to, can cause big problems by contaminating the stream. And even things that used to be OK are now in question (because we’re all supposed to be upping our game now that China doesn’t want to take our dirty recycling materials).

So what do you do with stuff like used batteries, lightbulbs, and aerosol cans? Storage bins in a closet or garage are an effective way to stockpile used materials.

Many of these items are recyclable, but have their own special procedures for getting that done. 

I’m going to try to make things easy for you by breaking down the system item-by-item.

Batteries

Why you shouldn’t throw them away: Different types of batteries contain different toxic components. 

Where you should recycle them:

CAUTION! It is important to tape the ends of batteries when you are done with them because if the terminals of used batteries come into contact with metal, they can discharge sparks. Masking tape or packing tape—even an old plastic sandwich bag—will do the trick. 

Pro Tip: Store used batteries in a coffee can or plastic tub until you save up enough to make it worth a trip to recycle them. Make sure there are no coins, paperclips, or other metal objects mixed in with them. 

Light Bulbs

Why you shouldn’t throw them away: Fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent, LED, and halogen bulbs all contain small amounts of toxic materials. 

Where you should recycle them:

Pro Tip: Use a sturdy basket or plastic storage bin to keep lightbulbs at home until you are ready to combine a trip to recycle them with another errand that will bring you nearby. Repurpose some packing peanuts, air pillows, or other fluffy material to be sure your bulbs don’t break. If they do, follow safety protocols for cleanup.

Scrap Metal

Why you shouldn’t throw it away: Because lots of metal odds and ends could be worth something if you save enough. Be sure to save keys, washers, screws, IKEA hex keys, the spiral part from your notebook that you pulled out so you could recycle the paper, and all the other random metal parts you end up with. 

Where you should recycle them: Take them to your local scarp yard in exchange for cash.

Pro Tip: Put scrap metal in a 5-gallon bucket or small trashcan in a garage or closet until there is enough in there to haul to the scrap yard for coffee money. 

Aerosol Cans

Why you shouldn’t throw them away: Aersol cans contain pressurized air and potentially hazardous contents. If they are thrown away, they could explode in the landfill when they are crushed.

Where you should recycle them: If there is no pressure remaining in the cans, they can be recycled with your other steel cans at curbside or drop-off locations. So if the product is non-toxic, like whipping cream, spray the rest of it out before you throw it in the bin. If there is pressure or product remaining in the can, box it up with the other items you will be taking to Tox Away Tuesday.

Aerosol cans with toxic contents should be taken to Tox Away Tuesday.

Speaking of Tox Away Tuesdays…

The Allen County Department of Environmental Management collects all of the items you might otherwise not know what to do with every Tuesday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. at our Household Hazardous Waste Facility located at 2260 Carroll Rd. 

Things like paint, yard chemicals, pesticides, cleaning products, fire extinguishers, propane tanks, auto chemicals, and anything you find in your home with a scary label (corrosive, reactive, flammable, poison) are accepted for fees based on weight. 

Check acwastewatcher.org for more information on what is accepted and how much will be charged. 

To make things easier on yourself (and your wallet), try to think about whether your neighbors, friends, or family might use the products that you don’t want anymore, and offer your leftovers to them. 

Consider posting your used items for free on an online marketplace. Then store the rest in a plastic storage bin in their original containers without letting anything leak or mix together. 

As I like to say, the best practice in being a good steward of the earth is to only buy what you need and to use up what you have.

Read more articles by Jodi Leamon.

Jodi Leamon is a Fort Wayne native with degrees in Environmental Studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Biology from the University of Illinois Chicago. Send her your questions at Jodi.leamon@co.allen.in.us.
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