America Recycles Day: Focus on hearing aids
Did you know America Recycles Day is November 15th? It is a day when we can all pledge to do just a little more for our environment to ensure we protect the earth for generations to come. One of the easiest steps we can take toward a healthier, more sustainable planet is recycling.
When we think of recycling, we think mostly about bottles, cans and other food and beverage packaging. But, most people don’t realize hearing aids and the batteries they contain can and should be repurposed or recycled for reasons both environmental and economic.
When it comes to hearing aids, the biggest environmental impact comes from the disposal of their batteries. According to some estimates, about 1.4 billion disposable hearing aid batteries end up in landfills each year. Most people don’t think of recycling hearing aid batteries, but based solely on the millions of pounds of waste they create, it should be top of mind for any hearing aid wearer.
The volume of waste the batteries create isn’t the only problem with tossing hearing aid batteries in the trash. Most hearing aid batteries contain zinc, and some contain mercuric oxide. These are considered hazardous wastes as they can leach into the soil and ground water. If the batteries end up in an incinerator, they can explode and allow those same toxic chemicals into the air. In order to avoid harming the environment, take your hearing aid batteries to a facility near you, like one listed in Call2Recycle, that can ensure their safe disposal.
At a recycling center, the zinc and any other toxic metals contained within the batteries are extracted. Those toxic metals are then recycled for use in other industries instead of going into a landfill. Most counties have drop-off centers that collect batteries and other hazardous household waste and send them to recycling facilities. You can also consult your hearing care professional for advice about how to dispose of your batteries.
Repurposing your hearing aids
And what about the hearing aids themselves? If you are ready to get new hearing aids, don’t just toss the old ones in the back of a drawer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss, but many cannot afford treatment. Consider donating your devices to a hearing aid recycling program that will refurbish them and make sure they go to someone in need.
There are two types of hearing aids, and both are useful for purposes of donation, albeit in different ways. The first, an in the ear (ITE) model is custom fit to the user and therefore cannot be reused by another person unless the outer shell is remade, which can get expensive. However, hearing aid donation programs can sometimes return your ITE hearing aids to the manufacturer in exchange for credit for parts. Those credits can be passed along to someone of limited financial means in order to make it easier for them to afford hearing aids. The second type of hearing aid, a behind the ear (BTE) model can usually be reconditioned in order to be used by someone else. The part that couples a BTE hearing aid to the ear is called an earmold, and these can be custom made for a new wearer.
The Lions Club, with chapters across the U.S. and Canada, maintains a hearing aid recycling program known as HARP. HARP recycles thousands of hearing aids each year in order to help those all over the world who can’t afford the hearing help they need. They do this in two ways. The first is through returning used devices to hearing aid manufacturers in exchange for credit. That credit is then passed on to those who need hearing aids in order to reduce the cost. The second way is the Hearing Aid Bank of recycled and refurbished hearing aids for those who have limited financial means.
Another organization that donates refurbished hearing aids to those in need is The Oticon Hearing Foundation. They accept donations of used Oticon devices, which are then reconditioned and donated worldwide through the efforts of a team of volunteer hearing care professionals dedicated to bringing hearing health care to poor communities.
If you wish to donate your Oticon hearing aids, send them to:
Oticon Hearing Foundation
580 Howard Avenue
Somerset, NJ 08873
Attn: Recycling program.
If you decide to drop off your hearing aids at a collection center or mail them to a charitable organization, be sure to first carefully wrap the hearing aids so they don’t get damaged. Then place the wrapped hearing aids inside a sealed bag so they stay paired.
So remember: the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” also applies to hearing aids and their batteries! With just a couple of extra steps, you can help save the planet for future generations and help give the gift of hearing to someone in need.