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The problem of batteries

The problem of batteries


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By Cristian Frers

The environmentally sound management of batteries begins with the choice of the product that will later become the waste that we must dispose of. For this reason, the role of the consumer is important when selecting the battery, with a preponderant role, since it will determine in the medium term the quality of the products offered in the market.


Batteries, batteries and micro-cells that invade our homes every day. Radios, flashlights, watches, walkmans, cameras, calculators, toys, computers are just a small sample of a huge list of products that use these energy sources, the reason for their commercial success being the autonomy of the electrical network, is say to be a portable object.

Currently there is no known study that evaluates the impact on the environment caused by the use and inappropriate handling of cells and batteries in Argentina; It is known that several components used in its manufacture are toxic and therefore environmental pollution and the risks of affecting health and ecosystems depend on the form, place and volume in which this type of waste has been disposed or treated.

The operation of batteries is based on a set of chemical reactions that provide a certain amount of electricity, which, although small, allows the operation of small motors or electronic devices. But this favorable advantage of autonomy is opposed to the negative effects of the chemical compounds used in the reaction where electricity is produced, since most of them are heavy metals, which when released into the environment cause serious pollution problems.

The batteries are thrown with the rest of the household garbage, being dumped in garbage dumps, either in the open or in sanitary landfills and in other cases to vacant lots, ditches, neighborhood roads, waterways, among others. To imagine the magnitude of the contamination of these batteries, it is enough to know that they are the cause of 93% of the Mercury in household waste, as well as 47% of the Zinc, 48% of the Cadmium, 22% of the Nickel, among others. heavy metals.

Just to give an example, let's see how mercury, in high exposure, affects people's health:
• Acute: Dermatitis, conjunctival and corneal ulcerations (blindness), oral collapse of the digestive system, fatal within hours, kidney failure.

• Subacute: Hallucinations, diarrhea, hemorrhages, excitability, alterations by oral contact, while by dermal contact: mental disorders, insomnia, peripheral link phenomena, sensory disorders in the extremities, infantile acrodia (pink disease).

• Chronic: All the disorders plus delirium and manic depressive psychosis. In continuous exposures but in low doses, in chronic form: weakness, anorexia, weight loss, insomnia, diarrhea, tooth loss, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), irritability, mild muscle tremors, and sudden jerks, sialorrhea (deep salivation) .

These batteries suffer from the corrosion of their casings affected internally by their components and externally by climatic action and by the garbage fermentation process, especially organic matter, which by raising its temperature to 70º C, acts as a reactor of the contamination.

When the internal electrolytes of the batteries leak, it carries away the heavy metals. These metals flow through the soil contaminating all forms of life (plant and animal assimilation).

The mobility mechanism through the soil is favored as the metals are in their oxidized form, these make them much faster in saline soils or with very acid PH.

The core of the problem lies in the wide variety and different types, which arises from the large number of possible chemical systems. This results in a complication for their management since their forms of treatment and recycling differ, as well as their degree of toxicity.

A fundamental question for the consumption of cells and batteries is to be able to classify them according to their composition. In this way we can choose those that generate the least environmental impact once exhausted or that can be recycled.


As the first classification of cells and batteries we can differentiate between "wet cells" (based on lead acid and used by automobiles, motorcycles, tractors, etc.) and "dry cells" (based on carbon, zinc, lithium, nickel metal hydride, silver oxide, alkaline, etc).

Dry batteries are used by most household electronic devices and can be classified into:
1. Primary: These are common batteries, generally cylindrical, carbon-zinc, lithium and alkaline. These batteries cannot be recharged, as they are based on irreversible electrochemical systems.

2. Secondary: They can be recharged externally since they are based on reversible systems. In most cases they are composed of acids, alkalis, irritating salts and metals.

The environmentally sound management of batteries begins with the choice of the product that will later become the waste that we must dispose of. For this reason, the role of the consumer is important when selecting the battery, with a preponderant role, since it will determine in the medium term the quality of the products offered in the market.

It is recommended to use electrical appliances connected to the network, now if their use is unavoidable, it is convenient to buy rechargeable batteries, in this way there is a great reduction in the volume of waste to be disposed of, since each time the battery is recharged Avoid throwing away a unit.

Another alternative is to opt for alkaline batteries with minimal mercury and preferably options that can be used.

It is also advisable to use calculators or solar powered devices and not leave the batteries within the reach of children. They can take them to the mouth and make an unconscious ingestion of heavy metals with its consequent danger to health.

The State must intervene urgently to definitively establish the mechanisms that facilitate their collection in suitable containers and adopt measures for their recycling and environmentally safe final destination (security landfill for hazardous waste).

This subject equally commits manufacturers, technicians and governments, who must necessarily and promptly develop effective methods for the safe disposal of batteries and thus avoid the environmental impact produced by their polluting components, putting into practice environmental policies that make the quality of life not a statement but a reality.

Cristian Frers Senior Technician in Environmental Management and Senior Technician in Social Communication


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