I'm still collecting batteries off the street as I find them, although last week I opened up my collecting container only to be greeted by an overpowering, acrid smell. Dumping them out on a table in the studio revealed that several of the batteries in the bottom of the can have started leaking. Up to this point I hadn't thought much about what I would do if these things started to deteriorate before I got a solid project off the ground - now I'm forced to rethink storage (I moved them to a box in the basement) and consider the possibility that these things might not be so easy to work with in the long run. I haven't been finding many batteries over the winter, partially because of snow, but probably also because people aren't spending as much time outdoors where they are content to throw them on the ground when they no longer perform up to speed. Working under the assumption that maybe I won't ever build anything substantial that will run off of these batteries, I've realized that I will probably not be able to stop picking them up off the street as I find them - so maybe I've just developed a life-long habit in the process?
I'm still thinking about making joule thieves as a possible solution - if not for a full-on project, at least maybe converting the blinkies on my bikes. Besides the batteries I find outdoors, I also have cans of them that my roommates and I have used that it would be nice to re-use, if I can, before recycling them. I bought a rechargeable set over the winter but I'm not sure how well they will work over time. The guy at the store where I bought them was trying to convince me to buy lithium AA's instead - he said that's what he used on his GPS, and all I could think about while he was talking to me was how a GPS unit in an SUV was about the most ridiculous way to waste batteries I could imagine.
Earth 911 has a nice battery recycling directory that will give you locations based on your zip code, as well as other general battery recyling information.