Assault on batteries

Pub date April 10, 2007

The urban forager is generally looking for something to eat, but this does not have to be the case. While there is an undeniable pleasure in bringing edibles (blackberries, nasturtiums) home to the table from the metropolitan wild, there is also satisfaction in gathering up rubbish and disposing of it properly. And just as the city is a remarkably fertile place, so too is it rich in articles it would be better off not being rich in.

We have all seen the plastic water bottles rustling in the gutters like autumn leaves — husks emptied of their pricey elixirs and tossed away. They are easy enough to pick up and put in the nearest blue recycling bin, and that was how I started. But once I began to see the gutters as traps for stray Evian bottles, I began to notice that they hold other sorts of trash, less conspicuous but more worrisome. They hold an awful lot of batteries, in particular, with a decided tilt toward the AA size. I would like to think that even blithe people do not make a practice of throwing objects as thick with toxic chemicals and heavy metals as batteries on the sidewalk or into the street, but I seldom travel more than three blocks by foot or bike without finding at least one, often smashed or mangled by traffic.

My little foraging project for the past six months or so (since winter is a bleak time for urban food hunting; the weekday chef’s menus have heavily featured cabbage and broccoli) has been to collect all the discarded batteries I come across and put them in an old measuring cup on the pantry counter. When the cup fills, every few weeks or so, I take it to Walgreens and empty its contents into the recycling pail. Batteries do not belong in landfills almost as much as they don’t belong in the gutters, and by accepting them and sluicing them into the recycling stream, Walgreens is performing a large, if undersung, public service.

My hope is that once people start to notice that yes, there are AA batteries all over the gutters and yes, they can be picked up and recycled, people will pick them up and recycle them. Walgreens stores are easy to find in these parts, and a city whose streets are cleansed of old batteries will be a better city.

Paul Reidinger