Do I need a Superfund to clean up my kids’ shoes?
January 7, 2016 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Do those flash shoes and flash toys represent an environmental hazard? How should they be disposed of safely?

I’m a pretty meticulous person when it comes to recycling, and I keep a bag that goes to our household hazardous waste center. I have refused to buy my children those flashing light shoes because I don’t know what’s in them or how they are powered, and I don’t know how to dispose of them. However, I have been given some flashing balls and magic wands that I think use the same technology and I don’t know what to do about those when they die.
I haven’t gotten a lot of good information from internet searching, so I’m still not really sure what is even in these products, but some searches suggest mercury and small batteries might be involved. Does anyone know exactly what is in these? The one ball I have that flashes is very hard plastic and I don’t want to use power tools to open it up, and the magic wand is a new Christmas gift and I don’t want to ruin it to investigate at least until they don’t care about it anymore.

While this seems a small worry, I do use products that are similarly environmentally hazardous but the flash toys seem like they might be a small return in joy for a big impact on the environment. Is this hunch correct or off base?

Some more details about my specific situation:
In the Upper Midwest USA, and my general worries are groundwater contamination from disposed items. I am assuming these products pose a very small risk to myself and children in their format as unbroken functional toys. Am willing to travel to dispose these if I know I can dispose of them in a substantially safer way.

My trash service takes all trash to a garbage burner. I know lots of people probably burn these batteries, but aren’t they a source of Bad Things if you burn them? Or do garbage burners somehow scrub emissions of these Bad Things?

My household hazardous waste site is wonderful and usually takes all of the items that I bring that weren’t exactly on their list but seem borderline.

Here’s what their website says about what they accept:
Recreational Products
Rechargeable and button batteries, pool chemicals, propane tanks, gas cylinders, etc.
Mercury containing items
Skin-lightening creams, fever thermometers, switches, thermostats, vapor lamps, fluorescent lights, etc.

What is in these toys? Can these toys just be put in my trash and then burned at the garbage burner? Can I bring them as-is to household hazardous waste or do I need to cut them apart to pull out some button batteries or something, or do I risk setting free some chemicals when I cut them open?
Or should I save them and give them to a friend that has trash delivered to a landfill since they are encapsulated in plastic and it will take a zillion years before the plastic is broken down to release any mercury?
Or should I keep these on the list of items I don’t buy because I feel they are environmentally hazardous? (Or worse, hazardous to the poor people and land at the factory?)
Should I just stop worrying and learn to love the bomb?
posted by littlewater to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In my experience all of these cheapie light-up shoes and toys are powered by non-replaceable button cell batteries. You could try bringing them to the hazardous waste depot to see whether they will accept them as-is. If they won't take them, they may have a suggestion about whether landfill or incineration makes more sense.

I wouldn't attempt to remove the batteries. You'd need a utility knife or something to get through the shoe sole or rubber ball and it'd be very easy to slip and cut yourself.
posted by pocams at 9:39 AM on January 7, 2016

I would drop them off to an electronics recycling event. My farmer's market holds an event like this once per month. My former town hall did them once a quarter year.
posted by jbenben at 9:40 AM on January 7, 2016

Stop worrying- big business contaminates more in one hour than you could in a lifetime. Toss the items when you are done. If you really want to help save the world, vote for politicians that that think green is an environmentally friendly term and not a word for money.
posted by myselfasme at 10:07 AM on January 7, 2016 [14 favorites]

They're a very simple circuit: a couple button cells, a switch, and an LED. The potential toxicity is basically zero.

Button cells used to be made with mercury, but that's been banned for a couple decades now.

Electronics used to use leaded solder, but due to ROHS laws in Europe nobody uses lead anymore (I imagine this especially goes for products aimed at kids).
posted by neckro23 at 10:36 AM on January 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

One of my very earliest questions involved these shoes. I also "didn’t know what’s in them or how they are powered" but I've since learned it's just batteries instead of the piezoelectricity I expected. Since they do contain batteries, you might take your illuminated shoes, wand and balls to a recycling station for proper disposal.
posted by Rash at 10:27 PM on January 7, 2016

Thanks everyone! Now that I know the worst things in there are the batteries, I did a little research and found out that the EPA doesn't even care how average people dispose of batteries, and that large lots of commercial batteries at hazardous waste facilities must be incinerated. So just putting batteries in my trash will take them to an incinerator anyhow.
posted by littlewater at 5:35 AM on January 8, 2016

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