Disposable batteries have transformed the way that we live and the types of activities that we do. The purpose of this discussion is to provide the reader with a natural history of disposable batteries from the time the raw materials are extracted from the earth to the time they are recycled or in a land fill. We will seek to explain the environmental impact that batteries have along the path of creation, use, and disposal. This paper will also discuss the Peripheral impact, of batteries including: how they are shipped, how much fuel is used, and how much pollution is created. Finally we will discuss the social impact of batteries and facts about the societies that make, use, and dispose of batteries.
Natural History of Disposable Batteries
The concept of batteries was first discovered between 1780-1786 by Luigi Galvani. Galvani found that connecting iron and brass created an electrical current. His ideas were expanded upon by Alessandro Volta from 1796 to 1799 with the creation of the voltaic electricity. Voltaic electricity was found when Alessandro experimented with stacking silver and zinc plates to create a pile and form the first dry battery. Volta also created the first "crown of cups" which consisted of silver and zinc discs that were covered in a salt solution.
Since this time the way in which disposable batteries (alkaline batteries) are made has progressed remarkably. Today disposable batteries dry-cell flashlight batteries consists of an electric cell, but larger batteries are made up of a group of cells that are connected to act as a source of direct electric current at a given voltage. A cell consists of two dissimilar substances, a positive electrode and a negative electrode, that conduct electricity, and a third substance, an electrolyte, that acts chemically on the electrodes. A group of several such cells connected together is called a battery. The two electrodes are connected by an external circuit (e.g., a piece of copper wire); the electrolyte functions as an ionic conductor for the transfer of the electrons between the electrodes. The voltage, or electromotive force, depends on the chemical properties of the substances used, but is not affected by the size of the electrodes or the amount of electrolyte."
Disposable batteries are used to power a number of appliances and other goods. Appliances and goods that use batteries include; CD players, radios, clocks, portable televisions, toys, games, watches and various electronic gadgets.
Batteries are also used to power vehicles; these batteries have longer lives and can be recharged but ultimately they have to be disposed of.
The environmental impact of creating these batteries is not as hazardous as disposing of them. A book entitled Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage, explores the impact of pollution on our environment. The book discusses an experiment that involved the Garbage project that began in 1971 at University of Arizona. The book explains the various ways in which disposable batteries can affect the world we live in by leaking lethal substances into the ground. The book discusses the problems associated with landfills and also explains that issues concerning the disposal of garbage have existed for centuries. The authors contend that while this concern is well founded the fact of the matter is that American cities are cleaner than they have ever been. Various governmental policies have greatly reduced the amount of pollution in the environment because we have adopted various emission standards. The book still asserts that we must examine ways to prevent the harmful that are found in batteries from seeping into the ground and harming the environment and the population.
Indeed the pollution caused by disposable batteries may prove to be a serious problem in the near future.
According to an article entitled "Green Batteries: Powering Innovation"
Americans go through 2.5 billion batteries per year, most of which wind up in local landfills. That boils down to about two pounds of batteries per household per year. And although batteries make up less than half of one percent of U.S. waste by weight, leaching and decomposing batteries contribute to more than 50% of the mercury and cadmium in landfills, according to a survey by the San Francisco Recycling Program. Such toxic heavy metals can contaminate groundwater, posing a risk to the communities served by the water source."
The article also asserts that the mercury that is used to create batteries may devastate the environment in the future. The article explains that there has been a 71% decrease in the amount of mercury that is used to make disposable batteries. However, the article points out that if the casings of these batteries begin to erode they will leak mercury into the ground.
Many experts believe that a remedy for some of this pollution caused by disposable batteries is the use of rechargeable batteries. However, rechargeable batteries still don't last forever and have to eventually be disposed of. The disposal of such batteries can also be detrimental because they also contain toxic materials such as cobalt. Cobalt is believed to cause pneumonia and asthma. These batteries can also leak cadmium which is also a toxic substance that can contaminate the water supply. According to an article found in the journal, Environmental Health perspectives, "Inhaled cadmium, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), can cause lung damage and death, whereas long-term exposure can cause kidney disease. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, cadmium "may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen."
Attempting to recycle these batteries can be extremely expensive. The author explains that it is virtually impossible to purify mercury enough to reuse it to make other batteries. There are other programs that collect batteries and ensure that the batteries are sent to a hazardous waste landfill as opposed to a regular landfill.
The article in environmental health perspectives explains that resources such as plastic and paper are used to package batteries. Some companies use recycled paper and plastic to create this packaging. In doing this these companies are able to contribute in making the environment cleaner. Batteries, like other products are transported to distributors by trucks, trains and airplanes. These vehicles use rather harmful fuels such as diesel and jet fuel which further damage the environment through air pollution. The amount of pollution that is created by transporting batteries is rather difficult to determine since these vehicles are usually transporting a variety of products. In any case, we can conclude from our research that the creation, use and disposal of batteries can be extremely harmful to our environment. Disposable batteries can cause a variety of upper respiratory problems and seep into our water supply.
Social impact of batteries and the society that makes, uses, and disposes of them Disposable batteries have become an essential part of our everyday lives. we depend on disposable batteries to make our lives more convenient and to enjoy the technology that we can't seem to do without. The creation of the battery and its subsequent use of batteries may not have begun in America but this country has perfected and improved upon the use of disposable batteries.
We utilize disposable batteries so much that there use has become a common practice. Our use of disposable batteries is a testament to the fact that we are a society that enjoys our mobility. This is evident in the fact that we use batteries to power cd players and walkmans while we jog or walk. We are a society that is consumed with a desire for convenience and the ability to take the technologies that we enjoy at home with us as we travel, exercise and work. It also speaks to the spirit of ingenuity that is present in America and nations throughout the world.