The serious problem of batteries in the environment

The environmentally appropriate 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 predominant role, since it will determine in the medium term the quality of the products offered in the market.

Batteries, batteries and micro batteries that invade our homes every day. Radios, flashlights, watches, walkman, 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 grid, that is say to be a portable object.

Currently, there is no known study that evaluates the impact on the environment caused by the improper use and management of batteries in Argentina; It is known that several components used in its manufacture are toxic and therefore environmental contamination and the risks of affecting health and ecosystems depend on the form, place and volume in which this type of waste has been disposed of 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 contrasted with the negative effects of the chemical compounds used in the reaction where electricity is produced, since they are mostly heavy metals, which when released into the environment cause serious pollution problems.

The batteries are thrown away with the rest of the household garbage, being dumped in landfills, whether open-air or in landfills and in other cases in vacant land, ditches, local 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 domestic 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, ulcerations of the conjunctiva and cornea (blindness), orally collapse of the digestive system fatal within hours, kidney failure.

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

• Chronic: All alterations plus delirium and manic-depressive psychosis. In continuous exposure 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, salivation (deep salivation) .

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

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

The mechanism of mobility through the soil is favored by the metals being in their oxidized form, which makes them much faster in saline soils or with very acidic 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 its management given that its forms of treatment and recycling differ, as well as its degree of toxicity.

A fundamental issue 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 less environmental impact once exhausted or that can be recycled.

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

Dry batteries are those used by most household electronic devices and can be classified into:
1. Primary: These are common, generally cylindrical, carbon-zinc, lithium and alkaline batteries. These batteries cannot be recharged, since 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 appropriate 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 predominant 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 advisable to buy rechargeable batteries, in this way there is a great reduction in the volume of waste to be discarded, since every 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 batteries within reach of children. They can put them in their mouth and unconsciously ingest heavy metals with the resulting danger to their health.

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

This issue equally commits manufacturers, technicians and governments, who must develop, as soon as possible, 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 quality of life not a statement but a reality. www.ecoportal.net

Cristian Frers - Higher Technician in Environmental Management and Higher Technician in Social Communication -