Dear Umbra,

I have to humbly admit that for years I’ve known that one can recycle batteries, but unfortunately, I’ve never known where or how to do this. I’ve been living in Seattle and northern Italy for the last year, and I have a pile of old batteries in each place. If you have any insight into how I might go about recycling them in both the U.S. and Europe, I’d so appreciate it!

With gratitude,

Seattle, Wash., and Ivrea, Italy

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Dearest Meg,

You lucky dog! Would I were in an Italian basement with only batteries on my mind.

I’ll set my envy aside to relay the info we stateside battery stockpilers need. I assume you’re talking about alkaline batteries, the common non-rechargeable cylinders and hexahedrons that fill our flashlights and fire alarms. No longer do these contain mercury, and not yet can they be recycled in Seattle. It’s not “cost-effective,” say the powers that be. Hence, alkaline batteries must simply go in the trash. Throw them out! Goodbye, clutter! What a relief.

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Battery recycling not included.

In other U.S. municipalities, eager readers, call your waste management bureau. I know, it’s anti-climactic and requires some labor on your part, but imagine how dull would be the column detailing garbage policy nationwide.

As for rechargeable batteries — from your phone, computer, remote control Hummer — the store where you bought the battery or the device it powers should recycle it. Or call 1.800.8BATTERY to find the nearest location for convenient recycling. (“Hello! You might recognize my voice as Al from TV’s ‘Home Improvement’! Well, I’m also the spokesperson for the Charge Up to Recycle Program!”)

And just in case your collection consists of automotive batteries, beware: Those are hazardous waste. Unless you’re running a junkyard, though, you shouldn’t have a problem. Car battery purveyors should be offering a trade-in when you purchase a new one.

Now, on to your Italian situation. I’m going to let you do your own homework, because I have never had the pleasure of examining Italian batteries, nor do I have the language skills to call Italy to ask about same. If they are the same as Seattle batteries, you know what to do. If you fear Ivrean batteries might still contain mercury, or if you believe the city might be more enlightened than Seattle in the realm of recycling (very unlikely), then call an environmental organization or the garbage department, respectively, and brush up on your Italian.


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