Powering the future: The benefits of battery recycling

Did you know that the protective sunscreen you're applying to your nose may come from recycled batteries?

Batteries are re-used in a variety of products not typically associated with energy; the zinc from recycled batteries, for example, is used in sunblock and as dietary supplements.

"Zinc provides very, very good protection. If you see people with white noses at the beach, they have a zinc product that they're using to protect themselves from the sun," said Carl Smith, CEO of North America's largest battery recyclers, Call2Recycle.

There are also the more traditional reasons for recycling batteries - to prevent the release of toxic substances into the environment and to conserve the raw materials necessary for their production.

However, only 10 to 12 percent of the 70 million pounds of batteries sold yearly in North America are recycled, and Smith says that's not enough.

"Most Americans are aware of it [recycling], but behavior indicates that most aren't terribly motivated to do so. In fact, the recycling rates in this country are not particularly high when compared for instance to Western Europe," said Smith.

Through a network of over 30,000 retailers, including Best Buy, Radio Shack and Staples, Call2Recycle offers battery collection boxes across the U.S. and Canada.

Once the boxes are full, they are sent to one of five recycling centers where the batteries are processed.

And in places like New York, recycling batteries has never been easier.

Under the pioneering New York State Rechargeable Battery Recycling Act, retailers of rechargeable batteries must offer consumers the ability to bring batteries back to the store for the purpose of recycling them.

Energizer, Duracell and Panasonic have also teamed up to create the Corporation for Battery Recycling. It currently offers six recycling programs in Washington, California and Minnesota, and hopes to become a national program that maximizes reuse of spent battery materials with a vision of "zero waste."

All of which Smith believes is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done in order to bring recycling at the forefront of green issues.

"The whole concept of recycling needs to have more general awareness and not just batteries but that broad behavior of trying to minimize waste and reuse materials to the extent possible has to be a higher priority," said Smith.

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    Jessica Hartogs is a news editor for CBSNews.com. You can find her on Twitter: @jessicahartogs