Bulgarian Association of Recycling: On the theme of the old batteries – why are they harmful for our health?

Conversation with Alexander Yavriyski – Executive Director of one of the organizations for recycling of unusable batteries and accumulators
Mr Yavriyski, why should we pass the batteries for recycling?
Batteries, though small in size, after their have gone out of use, become a hazardous waste and can easily discharge substances harmful not just for the environment but directly for our health. Furthermore, their manufacture is energy-intensive process, and the extraction of the contained-in-them materials, apart from being from depletable sources, is accompanied by a processing which is difficult and extra encumbering for the environment. The separate collection and the subsequent recycling of the unserviceable batteries ensures simultaneously both prevention from the release of harmful-for-the-health substances and saving of natural resources, as the obtained materials, as a result from the recycling, are purified and suitable for reuse in the industrial production.
What happens to those which we keep in our houses and how they affect our health?
The most common batteries – alkaline batteries are susceptible to discharge of the contained-in-them electrolyte which can lead to respiratory problems and irritation to the eyes and skin. It is often the case that such old batteries are forgotten either in a drawer or in an instrument that we have not used for long, so finding them after some time, we ascertain discharge of substance which has led to corrosion of the appliance, which causes irritation. Apart from this, are the direct hazards from improper storage even of usable batteries – when attempted to charge the batteries that are not rechargeable; when storing lithium batteries near sources of heat, explosion is possible and a number of others. This is the visible side of the harm, but there is an invisible one as well – the accumulation of heavy metals in the environment and our organisms – not felt immediately and directly, but has future consequences, they are deposited in soil, in the water.
Where can we bring the already unusable batteries? What do they do with them?
Until 10 years ago, when the issue was raised for separate collection of batteries, usually the comment was “no where”. Now in the whole country there are over 11 000 places for separate collection – in shops, commercial chains, public buildings, schools, hospitals, office buildings. Practically, there is no person, to whom a place has not been ensured where in the maximum proximity and with minimal efforts, the old batteries can be returned and separately collected. It is important to note that any commercial unit, in which, batteries are sold, has a legal obligation to ensure a container for separate collection, and to provide an opportunity for return of the unusable batteries for recycling. Once fallen into a container and after it is full, the collected batteries are transported by schedule, or by order, and fall into a licensed waste-disposal site, where, they are sorted by type and by chemical composition, and prepared for recycling in suitable-for-the-purpose installations. The obtained materials are returned back into the industry for further processing and use in the manufacture of new products.