Mercury in batteries
A legally binding treaty on mercury is expected to be finalised towards the end of 2013. This will drive international efforts to protect human health and the environment by minimising, and where possible, eliminating, mercury releases to air, water and land. The Australian Government is involved in these negotiations.
A report was recently released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called Mercury: time to act.
Mercury is used to produce compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), electrical and electronic products, measuring and control devices, dental amalgam and batteries. UNEP estimate that 542 tonnes of mercury were used to produce batteries in 2005. While mercury is no longer used to manufacture common (alkaline and carbon zinc) household batteries in most countries, it is still used to make button cells.
The disposal of used products to landfill and waste incineration are two of the many sources of mercury pollution identified in the report. In Australia most used handheld batteries are disposed to landfill. These include button cells as well as older alkaline and carbon zinc batteries that may contact mercury. Recycling of used batteries is therefore one action that should be taken to safely remove mercury from the environment.