Virtually every household in the Gaza Strip relies on batteries to keep their home running — a result of years of chronic power outages.
These batteries, fueling everything from lights to internet routers to solar panels, have helped mitigate one crisis. But they are causing another one as huge mounds of old and used batteries pile up in a territory lacking the ability to safely dispose of them.
“There is a real danger that these batteries are collected and stored randomly in the open air; not in warehouses,” said Mohammed Musleh, an official with Gaza’s Environment Authority.
The most pressing threat, he said, is that “the batteries break and ooze liquid that includes sulfuric acid and leaks into the soil and then the water aquifer.”
Gaza’s Environment Authority estimates that there are 25,000 tons of old batteries piled up at several locations across the coastal territory. There are no recycling facilities in Gaza and a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt prevents shipping the batteries abroad for safe disposal.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, used batteries create a number of risks to public health and the environment. Different types of batteries contain potentially dangerous types of metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, while some can catch fire.
Such risks are especially acute in Gaza, where the health care system has been ravaged and where the environment is already in dire condition. Nearly all of Gaza’s water is undrinkable due to high saline levels caused by overextraction.
The Gaza City municipality has a hazardous waste unit that is meant to safely dispose of old batteries. But Ahmed Abu Abdu, head of the unit, says very few batteries reach him. Instead, a small private industry has sprouted up.
Every day, collectors in cars or donkey-drawn carts roam around Gaza, calling over loudspeakers for people wishing to sell old batteries. Depending on their size, old batteries can fetch up to $2 apiece.