Every mother has heard the pleading question: “Mom, don’t we have any more batteries?”
Between the hand-held games, TV remotes, still and video cameras, music players, toys and video game controllers, our lives are a sea of batteries. We buy more every week, and it never seems to be enough. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Americans buy nearly 3 billion dry cell batteries every year. Worldwide, the total is maybe 10 billion. Those are sobering statistics today, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
The constant shopping for batteries and their cost is bad enough. But for one Verona mom, the final blow was realizing that most of these batteries wind up in landfills where the heavy metals they contain contaminate the earth. And so, four years ago, Gloria Machnowski just stopped buying them.
At first, she switched to recyclable batteries and got a charger. It wasn’t much of a solution. “It takes up to 16 hours to fully charge basic AA batteries,” she says. “Also, the battery charger can damage the batteries, and shorten its life if you overcharge them. And who remembers to unplug the charger on time anyway?”
Rechargeables also aren’t much use during power outtages. After losing power one day, Machnowski, who is a member of the Verona Environmental Commission and created its Web site, decided to give crank flashlights a try. She bought a pack of three in Home Depot and gave one to her mom and one to each of her kids. The newest crank flashlights have LED lights so they are very bright and, as Machnowski notes, they always work. She’s got her eye on an even better solution now: a so-called shake flashlight. You shake it for a few seconds and the magnets inside pass through a metal coil to generate electricity. They are widely available now in stores and online and are comparable in cost to a battery-powered flashlight.
Flashlights are fine, you say, but what about the toys? Machnowski and her husband both work extensively on computers, so it was perhaps a given that their children would begin to use computers at a young age. Rather than buy battery-powered educational toys, the Machnowskis get new educational software programs, many of which are available online for free. “So we don’t only avoid buying and throwing away batteries but plastic toys as well,” notes Gloria Machnowski, who also writes the blog “Verona Trees“. Electricity is more environmentally friendly in New Jersey than in other states because less than 16% of our electricity comes from coal-powered plants. According to the state Office of Clean Energy, nuclear energy produces 50% of the electricity used in New Jersey and natural gas accounts for 31%.
And there are more and more toys on the market that eschew batteries. “My brother gave solar-powered toy cars to my son and he loves those,” she says. “Last Christmas, we bought an electric slot car race set for the kids, but first we made sure that a power adapter was included instead of batteries. There are plenty of great toys that use no batteries,” she notes, including good old-fashioned wind-up up toys and music boxes.
Machnowski says that today’s batteries have less mercury in them than the batteries we used as kids, thanks to an EPA mandate, and many towns have recycling programs for lead and cadmium batteries. You can bring your to Verona’s Recycling Center at Commerce Court off Ozone Avenue on Wednesday and Saturday so they can be disposed of properly.
“We don’t miss all those batteries at all,” Machnowski says. “It’s one less thing to take care of. which translates in more free time to enjoy together.”