I am constantly amazed at the number of things that need batteries to operate. Apart from the obvious ones like cars and other vehicles, there is a plethora of tools, appliances, phones, watches, cameras, computers, toys and gadgets that are battery powered.
Have you ever noticed that so many of these are not sold with the batteries when you buy them new? I find that really annoying!
Like many people, I try to keep a supply of the commonly needed batteries on hand. I also keep them in the refrigerator which I have read keeps them fresher and longer-lasting. I’m not sure if this really works but at least I know where to find spare batteries.
So the question these days is, which is better value for money – rechargeable or disposable? Another important consideration is which type is better for the environment? Let’s look at both these factors.
The common alkaline battery is a single use power source. While they will last for 2 or 3 years, they can only be used once. When they run out of charge, they have to be thrown away, giving rise to them being referred to as disposable batteries. They will lose between 8 and 20% of charge each year, whether they are used or not.
Rechargeable batteries on the other hand, can be recharged and reused up to 500 times, extending their life considerably. These days, they are available in most of the most commonly used sizes and can be used wherever single use batteries are used. You only need to buy new rechargeable batteries very infrequently, compared to how often you would need to buy disposable ones.
While rechargeable batteries cost more to buy initially, they last so long before needing replacement that you quickly make up this cost difference and then have a definite cost saving for the remaining life of the battery. If you keep a set charged, there will be no delay when they need to be replaced. Keep all your batteries in the same place and mark them with the number of times they have been used and recharged, so you are never caught short.
Some people argue that you use extra power when you need to recharge the rechargeable battery and so they are not as cost-effective as claimed. However, the small amount of power needed to operate a battery charger doesn’t come anywhere near the cost of continually replacing disposable batteries, so you are still ahead.
So, now we know that you’ll definitely save money by buying rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones but what about the environment? Which of these types of batteries is the greener option?
It seems pretty obvious that if rechargeable batteries are going to last 500 times longer than disposable ones, they are the greener option straight away because there is less waste going to landfill. However, when it comes to how you dispose of different types of batteries, the environmental issue goes further than just the landfill problem.
Older types of batteries contained a large amount of mercury which is toxic to plants and animals and should never be released into the environment. Modern batteries contain much less mercury but many varieties still have small amounts. Alkaline batteries should be disposed of carefully and not simply thrown out in the general trash. They need to be taken to a special battery recycling center where they are disposed of carefully and safely.
The small button-shaped batteries often contain cadmium, silver, lithium, mercury and other heavy metals toxic to the environment. Luckily, these elements are a valuable resource because they are expensive, so they tend to be recycled so the metals can be reused. Even rechargeable batteries can be toxic to the environment if not disposed of properly. They can contain cadmium although many now have nickel-metal-hydride which is less toxic.
All batteries should be recycled because of the risk to the environment and most countries have recycling centers for this purpose. In Canada and the US, Call2Recycle is the place to go.
There are other green advantages to using rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones. Even the production of these batteries represents a saving to the planet. Rechargeable batteries have a reduced environmental impact of up to 30% in areas such as air and water pollution, non-renewable resources, and global warming.
A breakdown of the cost savings between single-use and rechargeable batteries shows that you will pay about $20 for a pack of four AA rechargables and a battery charger for between $15 and $30. This means that the batteries will cost about $50 for their 500 or so uses. Even though the same number of disposable batteries would cost you considerably less – maybe as low as $2, because they are single use, to get the equivalent amount of power, the cost would be $1,000.
So the green option for batteries is definitely rechargeable ones and fortunately, this is also the best way to save money!
So, what kind of batteries do you use and why?