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I click the shutter and capture a stunning image of Kosovo’s summer landscape. There are rolling hills, hedgerow flowers, tranquil smallholdings…
And the cadmium starts to leach into the soil.
Slowly and silently it is taken up by plant roots.
It accumulates in the pears and cherries of the smallholding; the fruit is picked and swallowed by young children…
Like some dystopic blight, my photograph produces its negative – a polluted land of tainted food. What did I do? Well, my camera runs on AA batteries.
And when I’ve used up one set of batteries, what alternative do I have? Thrown into the trash, the heavy metals of the batteries make their certain way into the food chain; my photographs (and yours, and the battery you just changed in that clock, the torch) are killing us.
Batteries rely on mercury, cadmium, nickel and lead – just the sort of soil you’d like your food to be grown in? These metals are not only polluting at the point when you throw your battery away, but also damaging in their production – the extractive industries which are heavily energy-intensive and threaten the wildlife and human habitats where the mining takes place. The fact that these portable energy cells share their name with a verb meaning ‘beating or thrashing’ seems depressingly appropriate.
Of course there are ways round this.
When you’re buying a product, look for ones with built-in batteries which can be recharged from the mains. Buy rechargeable batteries (though only if you’re really sure you’re going to use them – the additional manufacturing required, as well as the metals making up these batteries makes them a choice very unfriendly to the environment if they aren’t fully used) – my favourite type plug into the USB socket of your computer, meaning you can recharge on the move.
There’s a new Sanyo designed ‘eneloop’ rechargeable (not yet on sale in Kosovo) that can be recharged 1000 times, and holds its charge for 12 months, but even if you can’t find this, rechargeable brands now available in Kosovo hold their charge much better than old models and, even with the cost of a recharger, work out cheaper in the long run.
Such re-chargeables reduce not only the manufacturing impact of 1000 new batteries, but also the transport costs to the environment of the single-use batteries you would otherwise be replacing.
Rechargeable batteries aren’t suitable for everything though – they have a self-discharge rate of about 1% per day and they deplete more quickly when they are almost empty so they are not the best choice for safety equipment like smoke alarms.
And whether you use single-choice or rechargeable batteries, they all ultimately need to be disposed of. What are your options?
For four years, one small company (with five employees) has been working in Kosovo offering battery recycling. Envricon (044 194 666, firstname.lastname@example.org) offers collection of gathered batteries (minimum 10 kg) which are taken to their centre in Fushë Kosovë. Some of what is collected - such as car batteries – are recycled by them in Kosovo. Others (such as the AA battery from my camera) are shipped to Macedonia for recycling.
Envricon has worked with KFOR and UNMIK to collect their batteries and is ready to take on other clients. Ruzhdi Thaqi, the manager, says that rates for collection depend on the contract negotiated with the client, but that for humanitarian organizations they will collect for free as part of their work to support Kosovo’s development. ‘The main thing is to make the environment cleaner every day,’ he says. What can you do to help him?
Elizabeth Gowing is afounder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects. She is also the author of the recently-published, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo. She can be reached on email@example.com
In two high-profile war crimes trials currently ongoing in Pristina, a series of witnesses have retracted previous statements alleging abuse at Kosovo Liberation Army detention centres.