Nearly three billion single-use batteries, mostly alkaline batteries, are sold in the U.S. each year. The majority end up in landfills. While recycling technology is available, it is rarely used because little economic incentive exists to use it.
Rechargeable batteries are an example of a greener product that costs more initially, but delivers substantial savings over disposable batteries. The standard and most commonly used rechargeable batteries are Lithium-Ion (LiOn) and Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH). When used properly, rechargeable batteries can be used 150 to 500 times or more.
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How it Works
Once rechargeable batteries have lost their charge, they can be recharged with a standatd battery charger. A battery charger reverses the negative-to positive electron flow that occurs during discharge until the battery's charge is restored.
How You Save
A pack of 4 rechargeable AA batteries will a have retail cost around $20. They will likely recharge at least 500 times. Depending on the charger speed and features, the battery charger retail cost is anywhere from $15-$50. The energy to recharge the set works out to be only a couple cents each time. In total, factoring in the rechargeable batteries and charger, a set of 4 AA will cost around $35-70 for their functional life. A comparable set of 4 AA disposable batteries cost around $5. The equivalent usage would cost $2,500 and require 2,000 individual batteries!
The production of rechargeable batteries have the following advantages over disposables, comparing serviceable life:
- 23 times less potential impact on non-renewable natural resources
- 28 times less potential impact on global warming
- 30 times less potential impact on air pollution
- 9 times less potential impact on air acidification
- 2 times less potential impact on water pollution
At the end of their lifecycle, rechargeable batteries are still recyclable. The nickel in NiMH batteries has inherent value. There is low demand for the materials in disposable, alkaline batteries. When alkaline batteries are collected in most communities, they are likely to be sent to a hazardous waste landfill. This reality presents another major reason to seriously consider using rechargeable batteries.
Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries are the preferred cylindrical rechargeable battery. They offer higher energy capacity than NiCd batteries and avoid the high toxicity of cadmium. The best uses are in high-drain devices (digital cameras) or devices that experience prolonged or continuous use (GPS devices).
NiMH batteries do require somewhat regular maintenance. They lose power when storing idle, 1% or more per day. If left unused, NiMH batteries need to be recharged and preferably used every 1 to 2 months. They perform best over the long haul if used regularly. If you own or purchase many NiMH batteries, avoid mixing older and newer batteries. Keep them paired, grouped, or tape ID tags on them. Late in their lifecycle, NiMH batteries hold charges for shorter periods. Store fully charged away from heat and sunlight.