Answer Man

Is putting batteries in a landfill bad for the environment?

Q: What can be done with batteries such as 9V, D, C, AA and AAA flashlight? Does it make any difference if these batteries are put in a landfill? I’m 89, but I don’t want to mess up the environment any more than it is.

W.R., of Belleville

A: If they’re your standard alkaline batteries, you can feel free to put them in the trash without worrying that you’ll be creating some toxic monster for your grandchildren’s grandchildren.

According to the Iowa State University Environmental Health and Safety Department, our common single-use household batteries have not contained mercury for more than 20 years and have only a small amount of other metals, such as nickel, cobalt, zinc, manganese or silver. The trouble is that, pound for pound, it would cost 10 to 12 times more to recycle these materials than even some of the most toxic wastes. So as much as you and I may cringe at the thought, they say it’s best not to let them pile up but simply to pitch them as soon as they go dead.

Now if you still feel guilty, you can take them to the special collection day for household hazardous waste that is coming up from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at Melvin Price Memorial Park in Swansea. Any Illinois resident can bring a bevy of items that may be sitting around their homes from antifreeze, old gas and motor oil to pesticides fluorescent light bulbs — and batteries, both automobile and household. (No latex paints, tires or explosives, though, please.)

But as the folks at Iowa State point out, even when placed with other recyclables, household batteries usually are separated and tossed in with the regular garbage. As a result, they suggest you might consider the extra hassle and expense of buying and using rechargeable batteries when possible. For more information on the waste collection event, which is partly sponsored by the Illinois EPA, call 233-7769 or go to www.health.co.st-clair.il.us.

Q: The Gates Rubber Co. currently makes most V-belts for American cars. I read that they started as a company that made leather strap-on covers for the first tires to make them last longer. How long did early tires last?

John Rinderer, of Aviston

A: When Charles and Hazel Gates plunked down $3,500 for Denver’s old Colorado Leather and Tire Co. in 1911, drivers likely prayed every time they started even a short trip that they’d make it home without another flat.

According to the July 1922 issue of India Rubber Review, the typical tire in 1910 had a life of just 3,500 miles. But by the time that tire had seen its better days, it may have resembled a patchwork quilt from all the repairs to it and inner tubes to keep it going. You have to remember that the roads were not exactly of interstate-quality back then. In about the same year, the Danish Postal Service reported that its vehicles averaged a flat every 300 miles in Copenhagen — and every 125 miles in the countryside.

That’s why the Gateses immediately began manufacturing the Durable Tread. It was a leather tire riddled with metal studs that the company guaranteed in ads for “5,000 miles without puncture,” a 40 percent mileage improvement that likely enticed many cost-conscious drivers.

Just a couple of years later, however, the company replaced the Durable Tread with something it called the Half-Sole. This was supposedly a rubber puncture-proof tire cover that was cemented over a worn tire. The idea was to increase the mileage on the original tire at half the cost of a new one.

“You Half-Sole your shoes,” its advertising reminded potential customers. “Why not your tires?”

The idea quickly swept the country. In fact, when World War I brought rubber shortages as the country geared up to battle Germany, the Half-Sole was given priority manufacturing status because it conserved precious resources by improving the lifespan of existing tires.

Such a designation cemented the fortunes of the company, which officially renamed itself the Gates Rubber Co. in 1918. Then, the war ended and rubber prices plummeted again, allowing Gates to manufacture new tires more cheaply than the Half-Sole. A few months later, it introduced its Super Tread, “the tire with wider and thicker tread.” By 1922, its products were in such demand that it opened up nearly a dozen distribution sites around the nation.

By then, all tires were enjoying longer life, even as prices fell dramatically. In those 12 years, the typical mileage went from 3,500 in 1910 to 4,000 in 1916 and 8,000 in 1922, according to the India Rubber Review, a publication of the rubber manufacturing industry.

And those who shudder over today’s prices should thank their lucky stars. In 1910, a typical 33x4 tire cost $50.20, which, according to one inflation calculator, would come to roughly $1,225 today. By 1922, it was cut nearly in half to $26.80 ($383 today). The trade magazine also figured the cost in 1910 was 1.44 cents per mile of life expectancy, which meant the cost per mile for a gallon of gas paled in comparison to running four tires over the shoddy roads of the day.

No wonder my dad told me nightmare stories of patching and plugging the tires on his first cars until they almost wouldn’t roll.

Today’s trivia

As of last June, what were the most expensive tires ever made, according to Guinness?

Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: When drummer Don Brewer was looking to name his new rock band in 1969, he and his mates took a page from their childhood days near Flint, Mich. There was a railroad that ran through the city known as the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, so they took a little musical license by calling themselves Grand Funk Railroad. Still playing about 40 gigs a year, Brewer jokes in interviews that he hopes the band will be best remembered as Homer Simpson’s favorite group. For non-Simpsons fans, Brewer is referring to a 1996 episode called “Homerpalooza,” in which he is stunned to learn that his kids have never heard of the group. “Nobody knows the band Grand Funk?” he rants. “The wild shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don Brewer? Oh, man!”

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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