You Don’t Need to Spend Money on Trash Bags

Earth globe in a blue plastic bag
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

I haven’t bought trash bags in more than four years.

How on Earth is that possible? I can’t wait to tell you!

Paying for trash

Garbage bag, Image by cocoparisienne on Pixabay.
Image by cocoparisienne on Pixabay

We are intentionally paying for something we are going to throw away.

We all pay for garbage removal in some form, whether through municipal or property taxes or through a waste management service. On top of that, the traditionally accepted way of containing this trash is single-use plastic trash bags. We pay for new plastic bags, made from fossil fuels, to deposit and remove waste from our homes.

Every time consumers purchase plastic, we are supporting the plastics industry and fueling the effort to harvest more fossil fuels. Then we take those bags we paid for and put them in the ground. We are paying to throw stuff away.

“The first plastic garbage bag was produced in 1950. Globally, these bags collect 7.4 million tons of waste each day.”1

I’ve saved quite a bit of money by not buying trash bags. Trash bags range from $4 per box up to $12 per box depending on size, strength, flexibility, and even scent. Advertisers want you to believe that the most expensive trash bags will keep your home clean and sanitary. This is not a new trend, but one that has been accelerated by companies such as Glad Products (owned by Clorox) who conducted surveys and discovered that many Americans believe any bad smell means their home is dirty (or rather, fear that other people will think they’re house is dirty). Worse, scented trash bags likely contain phthalates (commonly referred to as “fragrances”) which are usually endocrine and hormone disruptors that can cause serious health problems over time. These scents may mask the odor of your garbage, but at what cost to your health?

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Another marketing trend to be aware of is “biodegradable” or bioplastic trash bags. Don’t be fooled. Nothing, including these bags, breaks down in a landfill. They require an industrial composting facility to biodegrade. “There’s also no telling if harmful additives or chemicals were added during the manufacturing process, and not all bags labeled biodegradable or compostable will actually break down in a compost facility.”2 Recycled plastic trash bags are better than new or ‘virgin’ plastic bags, but I still do not buy these for my home. 

“Landfills are not meant to encourage decomposition. They are dry and anaerobic spaces that essentially ‘mummify’ anything contained in them, including plastic.”3 

But now you can stop buying them too.

Necessity

Three years ago, it occurred to me that I was wasting money buying bags just to put in a landfill. Then I read a blog article on myplasticfreelife.com and decided that there really is no need for store-bought plastic garbage bags. “Since we make almost zero trash, and the trash we do make is dry, we don’t have any need for bags to collect it,” the author wrote.[efn_note]Article, “Collecting Garbage Without Plastic Trash Bags?” myplasticfreelife.com, February 15, 2010.[/efn_note] I found that once I eliminated wet garbage, I no longer needed plastic garbage bags.

What is wet garbage?

This mostly refers to food scraps and food waste. If you are able to compost through a municipal service like the ones they have in California, please do so. However, many cities and states do not offer this service as part of their waste management plan, including where we live. My family decided to start our own compost bin, which you can read about here. If you start composting, you will not have wet trash and thus will not need a plastic liner. Best of all, except for the initial cost of implementing a compost bin, composting is free! If you are paying for waste removal directly, you can reduce the amount of trash and frequency of pick-ups (thus cost savings) simply by composting.

About 34% of our waste is food scraps, yard trimmings, and other biological waste.

Waste reduction

We’ve noticed that many neighbors fill their 96-gallon city-issued garbage bin almost every week. We’ve only filled ours once, and that was when we had a major bathroom remodel in our home. But every city household is allotted a 96-gallon garbage bin that is picked up weekly. I haven’t done the exact math, but I believe that that is between 8 and 12 million gallons of garbage per week that our just our city is potentially landfilling.

This must stop. Our globe cannot sustain this level of trash.

Full 96-gallon city issued garbage bin
City-issued 96-gallon garbage bin, full with a week’s worth of trash from a single household. Photo by me

My family reduced our waste by buying food and other items with as little packaging as possible. We eliminated single-use disposable items and recycled what we could. Striving to be plastic-free and live a minimalist lifestyle reduced our overall trash. With these efforts, combined with composting, our garbage volume went down to about one bag of trash per month!

One bag of trash per month is far from our zero-waste goal, but it’s much less compared to most households. And Chattanooga is not zero-waste friendly.

Black garbage bag with the phrase, "Where does the garbage go?"
“Where Does the Garbage Go?” by Colin Dunn on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY 2.0)

Is Trash-Bag Free Possible?

It depends on how much trash you create, where you live, and how trash is transported. Some municipalities require garbage to be bagged. I wanted to stop using trash bags completely. But what I discovered with our city waste haulers is that unbagged garbage tends to either not make it into the trucks and falls on the ground in the neighborhood, or it blows out of the truck while they are driving down the road. In fact, I saw it happening so often that I tried to report the incidents to the city. But I could not obtain enough information about specific trucks while driving to provide good reporting, so nothing came of that. Pay attention to the waste hauling trucks in your area, or call your local municipality and find out if they have measures in place to help prevent these problems.

Back of garbage truck
This garbage truck lost several pieces of trash as I went down the same road, mainly lightweight plastic pieces. The Tennessee River flows through Chattanooga and any waste that gets into the river ends up in the ocean. Photo by me (at a stoplight).

Trash Bag Alternatives

I let our house run out of garbage bags three years ago and haven’t bought any since. However, since we have to use some kind of trash bag, just to keep our trash contained after it is picked up by the city, we use anything that resembles a garbage bag and staple them closed when it is full to prevent spillage. You can use anything! The most common of these includes:

      • Brown paper bags from the grocery store
      • Empty dog food bags
      • Large shopping bags that show up (even though we always use our own cloth bags at the store, these still manage to make their way into my home from shipping, other people, etc.)
      • Mulch and gravel bags (this is hard to buy in bulk where we live unless you own a truck)
      • Foil insulation bags (these are from Amazon/Whole Foods – during COVID-19 we had to get grocery store delivery for a while, and this was how they delivered our cold items. We have a couple of dozen of these now and they are not recyclable.)
      • Make your own DIY trash bags out of shipping envelopes

I also loved finding a use for these items. It felt wrong to buy a trash bag to throw away more bags or paying to bag the bags.

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Looking Forward

I would like to further reduce my waste through less and better packaging, improved zero waste capabilities, striving for plastic-free living, and minimalism. Ideally, someday, I won’t have so many shipping envelopes around. It would be better if I could purchase items in person and locally, which will take not only getting past the pandemic but businesses increasing package-free/plastic-free/zero-waste options in our area as well.

So free yourself from this practice of buying new plastic to almost directly put in the ground. You can stop paying for trash bags today, and use whatever bags come into your home. Thank you for reading, and please subscribe!

 

Footnotes:

Eco-Friendly Ways to Manage Fall Leaves

Last updated on February 27, 2021.

Red and orange leave on ground
Photo by me

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fall is my favorite season! I love the drop in temperature, the changing hues, the sight of leaves floating down, and the sound of leaves crunching under my feet. We have a big backyard with a wooded area, hence lots of trees. We rarely rake our leaves because I like the sight of them and my son and I can hunt pretty ones.

But by the end of the season, many people feel the need to remove leaves. Here are some eco-friendly tips about how to manage the fall leaves in your yard.

“Autumn leaves are falling, filling up the streets; golden colors on the lawn, nature’s trick or treat!”–Rusty Fischer

Three colorful leaves lined up together
Photo by me

To remove, or not to remove

I am a proponent of letting nature go through its natural process. We leave our leaves in the fall and by spring we either mow them and let the bits settle into the ground, or we rake them and put them in our compost bin. Leave your leaves if you can! Let your kids or dogs play in them. This is the most natural and Earth-friendly option.

But leaves can sometimes cause problems and in those situations must be removed. Leaves left on some types of grass will smother grass growth come spring. Leaves left in your yard can also allow a certain type of outdoor mold to grow on your lawn. Leaf dander can really affect people with allergies (I’m one of them, so no argument there). Also, leaves cannot be left on roofs and in gutters for obvious reasons.

Ways NOT to Dispose of Leaves

Whether you rake, blow, shovel, or mow your leaves, there are several natural and healthy ways to dispose of them. But whatever you do, please don’t bag them in plastic! Placing 100% biodegradable contents into a sealed plastic bag that goes to a landfill where they will never biodegrade is the worst practice for the environment.

Leaves bagged in large plastic garbage bags
Leaves bagged in large plastic garbage bags. Photo by me
Leaves bagged in large plastic garbage bags
Leaves bagged in large plastic garbage bags. Photo by me

When I took this photo in my neighborhood, I was trying to figure out why people bag their leaves in plastic (there are multiple neighbors with bagged leaves right now). But then I discovered that the city’s website indicates to residents that they may bag up leaves and yard waste and request separate pick up from the regular garbage pick up. The website says you can also put them loose on your curb for Loose Leaf collection (where they use the giant vacuum truck). But what the website does not say is what happens to those leaves after they are picked up. I’m sure many don’t give it a second thought – out of sight, out of mind – so the homeowner probably believes they were doing the right thing.

I emailed the City of Chattanooga to find out what happens to the bagged leaves, but it took 4 email exchanges to obtain a thorough answer. It turns out that paper or plastic bagged leaves are picked up by the city’s waste contractor (WestRock) and taken to the landfill. Only the unbagged loose leaves that are left on the curb are picked up by the city and taken to the city’s wood composting facility. I don’t think many residents know this because if they did, I think people would change their practice or request the city change its protocol. There is a lack of clarity on the website and through their email service, and maybe people don’t think or have time to ask for additional information.

Unfortunately, I doubt we are the only city that handles leaves this way. So please, always check with your municipality before bagging your leaves!

Another neighbor takes his yard debris, including leaves, and puts them unbagged into his city garbage can. He may believe that they will decompose and not know that nothing decomposes in a standard landfill. So it is very important to refrain from this practice as well.

Yellow leaf on the ground
Photo by me

Ways to Dispose of Leaves

If you must have your leaves removed, you’ll need to check with your local municipality about leaf collection and how they dispose of the leaves. Do they send them to a compost facility? Are they sent to the incinerator? Or are they landfilled? Try to find the option that allows the leaves to decompose, such as the option to put them on the curb and have them vacuumed up by city services. Keep asking questions if you don’t get a thorough response the first time.

The best option is to put leaves in your compost. Compost thrives from having a variety of materials, especially dead leaf matter mixed with food waste. So rake them and put them in your compost. And if you don’t have a compost bin, maybe this is a good time to start one!

If you have woods around your yard, you can easily find a place to dump your leaves. This home below, as you can see, has a wooded area adjacent to their land where they could’ve dumped these leaves and let nature take its course. You will want to avoid dumping them in ditches or waterways to prevent flooding.

Yard with leaves
Photo by me

A third option is to save them to use as a mulch cover. If your mower has a bagged mulch option, you could mow and mulch them and use them in the spring for your garden.

Last, some like to burn leaves. Besides the obvious safety and fire hazards, it turns out that the practice can have health hazards too. According to Purdue University, the smoke from burning leaves contains tiny particles and gases that can accumulate in the lungs over time. Additionally, the smoke from moist leaves gives off hydrocarbons, an irritant to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs but also which sometimes are carcinogenic.1

Raked leaves in yard with bench
Image by utroja0 from Pixabay

Enjoy Fall!

Regardless of how you deal with your leaves, enjoy fall! It’s a beautiful season that’s the beginning of a renewal. It features a few of the most fun holidays, the weather is cooler for outdoor activities, and it’s gorgeous. Maybe forget raking the leaves and just enjoy the season? Thanks for reading, and please subscribe!

“Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”– Truman Capote

Footnote:

Is Tiny House Living actually a viable solution? Part 2

Interior of a tiny house
Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

In my last post, I told you about my family’s growing interest in tiny houses. I’ve been pursuing buying or building a tiny house in our area, but I’ve run into many roadblocks. I want to provide a few clarifications: first, tiny can be defined as anything under 700 square feet. What we really want is a house under 1000 square feet, which could also be classified as a small house. Second, we are not looking to be mobile as some tiny house owners are – we are not looking to tow the house and use it for traveling. We would want to build it on a foundation. Third, we are not looking to be off the grid – we want electricity and plumbing. Last, we want to do this 100% legally, and that’s where the biggest roadblocks have been.

House at River Ridge Escapes, photo by me
House at River Ridge Escapes, photo by me

Where can you put a tiny house?

Though I’m in Tennessee, I want to share my experience because I suspect it is typical of many regions of the United States. I found it very confusing to figure out what you can build and where you can build. If you watch popular TV shows about tiny house living, they make it seem like you can just park one anywhere. But I’m afraid that that’s just not true. There are many details, ordinances, and regulations. When I started the process, I didn’t even know how to find the information. Even now I’m certainly no expert, but I wanted to share my experience in hopes that it helps others navigate the same process.

I’ve spoken to several tiny home builders and real estate agents about buying or building a tiny house. None were able to give me enough information or direction. Real estate agents especially did not seem very motivated to work with me. From a financial perspective, we were only looking to buy a small piece of land under $30,000, rather than a huge house in the hundreds of thousands, thus less of a commission for them. A couple of agents were somewhat helpful, but only to a point. One even told me that I could “plop one down anywhere I wanted,” which is completely inaccurate and misleading.

Well, kind of. I can buy a tiny house and park it in my backyard tomorrow. But I cannot legally reside in it full time.

Dining room of a tiny house, photo by me
Dining room of a tiny house, photo by me

Zoning: County, or City?

Though I thought real estate agents would be most knowledgeable in zoning laws, they often referred me to the county and city zoning offices to find out for myself. I called both zoning offices multiple times over several months and left messages and I’ve never received a return call from either. I was going to have to take a day off from work to visit the offices in person, but I never even got that far.

Eventually, I figured out that zoning is different in the county versus the city; that sections of each have their own zoning regulations; and that individual subdivisions within the city and county often have their own restrictions. Each of these has requirements about minimum square footage, lot size, foundation type, home shape (to prevent mobile homes), etc. Many of these are rules are created as safety regulations, but some were created simply to keep poor people out of certain neighborhoods.

We looked at many pieces of land in person and online. Some were in the city and some were in the county, but this isn’t always easy to determine. When I’ve asked real estate agents directly, I often did not get a clear answer. Here are some of the small, quick tricks you can use to determine which zoning to even start with:

      • Look at the garbage cans – if those are city-issued, then it is city zoning.
      • You can tell by school zone if schools are separated by city and county (where we live, it all falls under the county).
      • Check the public library system to find out if it serves the city or county.
      • Find out which utilities (water, gas, electric) service county and city separately, you can determine the zone that way.
Tiny house at River Ridge Escape, photo by me
Tiny house at River Ridge Escape, photo by me

Zoning Classifications

We found several pieces of land into which we made serious inquiries with real estate agents. Regarding one particular property, the agent responded: “This particular property is zoned R1 so you could build on it but I’m not sure if there is a minimum size or not and also, since it’s in a subdivision, there are probably restrictions on what can be built…If there are no subdivision restrictions, you would probably have to get a special permit for a tiny home…It is my understanding that zone R5 is the only one not required to get a special permit. If I were you, I would make a trip to the zoning office and try to get them to break down the process for what you are wanting to do.” That was a lot of information for me to understand in just one paragraph, especially since I am not versed in zoning laws.

Many areas do not have a separate classification for tiny homes. Zoning classifications are not standardized and can vary greatly. Even if a municipality follows the International Residential Code (IRC), there are usually amendments and exceptions. Generally, most indicate the type of use with a letter or combination of letters, for example, R for residential or C for commercial. There is usually a number to indicate the type of development. For example, in our area* R1 refers to lots for single-family dwellings.

R1: Residential buildings

The definition of R1: “Single-family dwellings, excluding factory manufactured homes constructed as a single self-contained unit and mounted on a single chassis.” I have been unable to find the minimum square footage for new R-1 construction in our city and county, except that they follow the standards of the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC) with many amendments and exceptions. The 2012 IRC requires a minimum of 120 habitable square feet in at least one room. Other rooms must be at least 70 square feet with 7-foot ceilings. But in some county municipalities adjacent to Chattanooga, the minimum is 1400-1500 square feet for newly constructed residential buildings.

R5: Manufactured residential homes

R5 is intended for single wide manufactured homes in specifically designated places. In other words, here R5 means trailer or mobile home park. In many places throughout the United States, tiny houses are relegated to mobile home communities. Tiny houses that are 400 square feet or above are often classified as manufactured homes. Many of the tiny house models we liked were either right at 400 square feet or just over. In the city, a manufactured home is defined as a structure, transportable in one or more sections, which is at least 8 feet wide and 32 feet long (256 square feet) “and which is built on a permanent chassis, and designed to be used as a dwelling with or without permanent foundation,” according to the Chattanooga Code of Ordinances.***

A1: Agriculture use

In our county, A1 zoning is “intended for agricultural uses and single-family dwellings at 2 units per acre maximum.” One real estate agent and one tiny house company informed me that I could “probably get away with a tiny house” on a lot with that zoning. But we don’t want to “get away with it” and hope we don’t get caught, experiencing consequences of hefty fines and a relocation later. We want to do this legally.

Travel trailer or camper

If a tiny house on wheels (THOW) is classified as a travel trailer, they are only allowed to be used for “short-term occupancy for a period not to exceed thirty (30) days, for frequent and/or extensive travel, and for recreational and vacation use.”** So you can technically own one and park it wherever an RV is allowed, but you cannot reside in them full time or permanently.
Kitchen of a tiny house at River Ridge Escape, photo by me
Kitchen of a tiny house at River Ridge Escape, photo by me

Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions

On top of figuring out the county zoning for areas outside of the city, many subdivisions have what is called Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs). These rules govern the use of lots in the subdivision or neighborhood and are usually enforced by a homeowners’ association. Again, many of these rules are created as safety regulations. But some were put in place to prevent the poor from moving into those neighborhoods.

Unfortunately with every single lot that we inquired about, we hit a roadblock, usually in the form of said CC&Rs. Some had a minimum square footage requirement of 1500 square feet, and two required a minimum of 2500 square feet! I honestly don’t even know what I’d do with a house that size. Another real estate agent recommended a vacant double lot zoned as R2, on which we could’ve built a small duplex and rented out half. But it also had a steep grade and would have required a double foundation or a poured wall foundation. This combination seemed too much for us to take on financially and physically.

Elevation of a tiny house on the beach
Elevation of a tiny house on the beach, image from architecturaldesigns.com

Commit with no guarantee

If we decided to build a small house on a foundation and got past any relevant CC&Rs, then we could apply for a special permit through the applicable zoning office. But we would have to buy the land first, and then to apply for the permits we would have to bring the zoning office architectural or building plans. If this order is correct, we would have to purchase the land, then work with a general contract or architect and pay them to draw up the plans. So we’d have to commit financially to the land and the plans before we’d even know if we could build the small house we desire.

Retrofitting an Older House

There are some single-family homes in our area under 1000 square feet, but most of them are older homes. When you purchase an older home, as we did, you must be prepared for the problems of an old home. Homes built before the 1980s can have asbestos, as our house did, and asbestos remediation is expensive. Homes built before 1978 often have lead paint and contractors will not perform work on your house until it has been tested. Some argue that you can “get around” testing for things like asbestos and lead by doing the work yourself. But the risk is exposing yourself and your family to known highly carcinogenic toxic materials. Older homes sometimes have mold or mildew issues. Old construction materials may have been made or treated with dangerous chemicals, such as old insulation, lead pipes, and varnishes.

I’m not against owning an older home, but I wish I had known these things before buying one so I could have been prepared financially. For our family, we want newer construction, and many tiny houses tend to either have newer building materials or be newly constructed. Additionally, the cost is often higher to retrofit or “gut” an old house and rebuild the interior with updated plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc. than it is to buy or build a new tiny or small house.

Interior of a small A-frame house
Photo by Andrea Davis on Unsplash

Tiny House zoning issues

Tiny houses are not allowed in many places, and this is most often due to the property tax structure. Property taxes are a major income source for local governments and they often pay for a variety of services including schools, fire and police, infrastructure, libraries, garbage and recycling, and too many others to list. Property taxes are usually based on the value of your land and home. The more square footage of the home, the higher the taxes, and the more income the municipality takes in. So there is not much motivation there to allow tiny or even small houses. The system discourages small and sustainable living.

Movement on the rise

There are cities in Florida, Oregon, California, Arizona, and several other states that laws that allow full-time residency in small or tiny houses. Tiny house communities are popping up in different areas, like the ones I mentioned at River Ridge Escape in Georgia. Some argue that the tiny house movement is a trend and will be short-lived. Others claim that the movement is here to stay so that people can live the life they want by not being tied down by a huge mortgage.

Thank you for reading, I hope this information is helpful. I am not trying to discourage anyone from trying to go tiny. As for me and my family, the effort to build in our specific area has been tabled, but it is not off the table! If there are any errors or misinterpretations in this post, it is only because my understanding of building codes and ordinances is rudimentary and I’ve largely had to figure this out on my own. If you have updated information or your own experience to share, leave me a comment below!
Blue tiny house with rounded door
Image by Kool Cats Photography on Flickr, Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Footnotes:

*Information obtained from the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.

**Information obtained from Chattanooga Code of Ordinances, Chapter 38, Zoning.

***Chattanooga Code of Ordinances, Section 10-8.

 

Additional Resources:

Article, “Are Tiny Houses Illegal in Your State?” by Maria Fredgaard

Article, “Tiny-house owners are facing evictions or living under the radar because their homes are considered illegal in most parts of the US,” Insider.com, December 14, 2020.

Article, “Where Can I Build a Tiny House?” by Maria Fredgaard

Article, “A woman who parked her tiny house on her parents’ property in New Hampshire was forced to move out after the local government said it was illegal,” Insider.com, December 30, 2020.

The Truth about Recycling Batteries

Lego Stormtrooper surrounded by Duracell batteries. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Recently, I sent my husband to the Hazardous Waste facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to drop off used alkaline batteries (aka single-use or dry cell or primary cell) that we’ve been saving for about 8 months. Hazardous waste would not accept them, informing him that “they were fine to put in the regular trash.” I’ve been taking them there since 2016, perhaps twice per year, and they always accepted them. Did they used to accept them, and now they don’t? Did they never accept them, and just put them in the landfill instead of properly informing me? I don’t know the answer but either way, I was shocked and disappointed.

I believed alkaline batteries were recyclable for many years. Years before I traveled to the Hazardous Waste facility, I used to bring them to Batteries Plus (now Batteries+Bulbs) for recycling. But in the last decade, they stopped taking them. The store clerks told me several times that the recommendation has been to place them in the trash because they are “safe” for landfills. I’ve even been told that alkaline batteries are “good” for landfills because the alkalinity balances out the acidic environment of landfills.

Is any of this true?

No, it isn’t. Those are myths.

According to an article on Consumer Reports: “If your old batteries end up in a landfill, pollutants like these can leak out into the environment and contaminate groundwater, damage fragile ecosystems, and even make their way into the food chain.”

The argument is that mercury, a highly toxic metal, is no longer a threat. Mercury content in batteries has decreased significantly since passage of the 1996 Battery Act, which also changed their classification from hazardous waste to non-toxic or non-hazardous. Some argue that naturally occurring metals in batteries pose no threat to the environment.

But why take the chance while the experts argue it out? Any single-use disposable item is now a threat anyway because of the sheer volume of items we throw away.

Graphic of a dead, leaking battery. Image by acunha1973 on Pixabay
Image by acunha1973 on Pixabay

So can alkaline batteries be recycled?

Technically, yes. But practically, no.

While the recycling of alkaline batteries does exist, they are more expensive to process and they don’t contain valuable materials like other types of batteries do. Thus there is no financial incentive to recycle them unless mandated by law.

Are there laws about battery disposal/recycling?

In some places, yes. More than twenty states have laws about battery disposal. But most are concerned with rechargeable type batteries, which are much more recyclable. In Tennessee, there are no battery recycling requirements. California has the most strict laws – not surprising since California is always in the lead when it comes to laws regarding unsafe, toxic, and dangerous products.

A few states, according to Consumer Reports, require some retailers to collect batteries for recycling. Others require that battery manufacturers fund or organize battery collection programs. Making the manufacturers responsible is one solution. This model is called Extended Producer Responsibility.

Variety of used batteries. Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

What do the manufacturers recommend?

I checked with three large battery manufacturers for their recommendations on alkaline battery disposal. Overall, I was displeased.

Duracell: “Our alkaline batteries are composed primarily of common metals—steel, zinc, and manganese—and do not pose a health or environmental risk during normal use or disposal…Therefore, alkaline batteries can be safely disposed of with normal household waste, everywhere but California.” They encourage customers to contact the local government for disposal options in their area.

Vermont passed a law that implements Extended Producer Responsibility: “A 2016 law now requires primary battery producers, such as Duracell, to fund a free statewide collection and recycling program.” Yay for Vermont!

Energizer contends that “unless you live in California, you’ve been tossing non-rechargeable batteries safely in the trash for at least 19 years.” Um, if it’s not safe in California, it’s not safe anywhere. Toxins don’t change by crossing a border.

Energizer shucks responsibility on the website. They also take credit for an effort to which they did not contribute. “Since its inception in 1994, Call2Recycle has recycled over 100 million pounds of used rechargeable batteries. This national mindset to recycle has enabled Energizer® to pioneer technology that reuses battery material to create new batteries. So already we’re helping to make a difference.” No, they’re not. If these statements were true, they’d take responsibility for the afterlife of disposable batteries.

Rayovac: “Batteries can be disposed of with normal household waste in most US states.” They, too, refer consumers to Call2Recycle. They offer information on their commitment to sustainable production, which is neat even though they offer no real solutions for disposable alkaline batteries.

Photo of AA Energizer brand batteries
Image by Photoshot from Pixabay

Where can you recycle batteries?

Earth911 and Call2Recycle are both good resources for recycling in general. The latter, a leading battery stewardship program, has collection sites for batteries in different parts of the nation. There are no collection points in Tennessee, nor Georgia or Alabama. But maybe they’re near you! Check out this map from Care2Recycle.org:

Map of battery recycling laws by state.
Image courtesy of Care2Recycle.org

There are a few places you can pay to recycle alkaline batteries, but it’s very costly for us as consumers:

        • TerraCycle offers alkaline battery recycling pouches starting at $57.
        • Call2Recycle sells a box for $45 for battery recycling and other items.
        • BigGreenBox also sells one for $63.

Solutions

There are several solutions at the consumer level that we can implement.

    • Stop buying alkaline or single-use disposable batteries, and switch to rechargeable batteries. They are reusable and much more recyclable! This is what I am planning to do effective immediately. I read reviews on rechargeable batteries and decided to order a Panasonic Eneloop rechargeable batteries set. I’ll update this post with a review of them once I’ve received and tested them.

      Image of Panasonic eneloop Power Pack
      Panasonic Eneloop Power Pack
    • Reduce your overall dependence on batteries. I know this is not always feasible, especially with children’s toys and remote controls, but opt for plugging in whenever possible. You can also buy smarter in the future, purchasing items that don’t require alkaline batteries.
    • Recycle the ones you can through one of the above-mentioned services, until you can fully make the switch away from alkaline batteries. I will be doing this well, and I’ll update this post to let you know how it went!
    • Write to the battery manufacturers and request that they do more to improve recycling and awareness about disposal. This probably won’t do much, but it’s worth a try!
Close up photo of batteries, Photo by Hilary Halliwell from Pexels
Photo by Hilary Halliwell from Pexels

I hope this was helpful, and thank you for reading! Leave me a comment or question below, I love a dialog! Keep trying to be the change, and please subscribe!

 

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