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Chuck Watson, owner of Batteries Plus in Medford, sorts through hundreds of pounds of used batteries from Providence Medford Medical Center. Many of the batteries still have plenty of power in them and will be given to ACCESS Inc., which will distribute them to low-income families. Jim Craven 7/23/2008 - Jim Craven

Recycling BATTERIES

Chuck Watson has found a way to get more life out of batteries that used to go to the landfill long before they were dead.

Batteries used in hospital medical equipment have to be replaced after each use to ensure they won't fail during a procedure. That safety practice required hundreds of pounds of barely used batteries to be trashed. Watson, who owns Medford's Batteries Plus, now collects used batteries from Providence Medford Medical Center, tests them to determine how much power they have, and saves the good ones for ACCESS Inc.

"We're taking something the hospital wants to get rid of, so it solves their problem, and it gives poor folks a chance to have something useful," Watson said.

He planned to deliver his first shipment of "recycled" batteries to ACCESS Friday. ACCESS will distribute them in the food boxes that are delivered to the 21 emergency food pantries throughout Jackson County.

"They can be used for fire alarms and those things that sometimes people let go because they just can't afford them," said Vicki Penny, food share coordinator at ACCESS. "There are safety issues we can help with."

Watson got involved when Maggie Eklund, in the Providence materials management department, was looking for a way to help the hospital go green. She knew the batteries often had lots of power in them, but many could not be recharged. She asked Watson, the hospital's battery source, if something could be done with the slightly used batteries. He contacted ACCESS while looking for people who might be able to use the batteries.

Watson developed a testing and coding system to determine which batteries had the most life. Many had 94 percent of their total energy remaining. Batteries that had more than 44 percent remaining energy were salvaged and sent to ACCESS.

Even those batteries, though less than half charged, proved to be useful.

"I've got an FM radio on my work bench," Watson said. "I popped in four of the lowest-grade AAs, and it's been running maybe 20 hours now."

Rogue Valley Medical Center's recently created Green Committee is working on a similar program. The hospital already recycles items such as printer cartridges, paper and surgical wrap.

"Some nurses' stations are recycling batteries, but there's not a hospital-wide program yet," hospital spokesman Grant Walker said. "There will be soon, I'm sure."

Reach intern Stacey Barchenger at 776-4464 or by e-mail at intern1@mailtribune.com.

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