Rechargeable vs Disposable: What is the most environmentally friendly battery?

While many of us put in an effort to be eco-friendly in our day-to-day lives, this can be a challenging feat. We may avoid single-use plastic, recycle our waste, and spring for reusable items whenever possible. But these changes many times leave a large chunk of our pollution footprint unchanged.

Take ordinary household-use batteries, for example. Rechargeable batteries are generally thought to be better for the environment than single-use batteries. But is that actually true? We may reconsider this when we consider the pollution associated with the mining of the special metals used in rechargeable batteries, the carbon emitted during production and shipping, and the post-use lifecycle of these batteries.

To truly understand the factors involved in making an informed decision, it is helpful to know a bit about how batteries are manufactured, and how they work. As it turns out, the materials required to make these two distinct types of batteries are significantly different.

How do rechargeable batteries work?

  • Composition - In order to be rechargeable, batteries must contain cadmium, cobalt, and lead. That is problematic, because each of these elements are potentially toxic soil and air pollutants.

  • E-waste - Rechargeable batteries require special equipment in order to be recharged. This only adds to the problem of e-waste, especially if this equipment is not also recycled after the batteries are no longer usable.

  • Electricity source - Rechargeable batteries need electricity to be recharged, which often comes from nuclear, coal, gas, and other types of harmful energy sources.

Rechargeable vs Single-Use Recyclable Batteries

While rechargeable batteries can be recycled, not many recycling facilities are equipped to recycle all of the components of this type of battery. Our partners at Call2Recycle recycle both single-use and rechargeable batteries [2], but make sure you check with your local recycling facilities to ensure you are disposing of your batteries correctly.

Using a simpler battery type, such as Alkaline batteries, can help ensure that a given recycling plant is able to reuse or properly dispose of all of the materials used in your battery. This is not the only difference between these types of batteries, though.

The materials used in batteries also vary drastically. Rechargeable batteries use cadmium, cobalt, and lead -- which can be quite harmful to humans and animals. Lead contamination, for example, is notoriously linked to serious developmental delays if ingested by children [3]. As such, lead is classified as a neurotoxin; it can accumulate in the body and damage the nervous system. Cadmium is also toxic. It is an environmental pollutant that damages the health of living creatures [4]. Cobalt, at least, plays a role in biology — in vanishingly small amounts. But too much is toxic, and may even cause cancer.

Alkaline batteries, meanwhile, are made of metals that are far less problematic. These include the common minerals, zinc and magnesium dioxide, and the electrolyte, potassium hydroxide. All of these minerals are commonly found in the human body [5]. In fact, life would not be possible without them.

Consider, too, that rechargeable batteries often lose power over time, when stored long term [6]. When you need power fast, they can be less dependable than single-use, recyclable batteries. While a perfectly acceptable choice in many instances, keep in mind that rechargeable batteries must be removed, recharged, and switched out more often. Furthermore, recharging depends on using energy (electrical current at home or in the workplace), which is, more often than not, from non-renewable energy sources, such as upstream coal-fired power plants or even nuclear energy plants. 

Why disposable recyclable batteries may be a better option

It’s not all about the money. Sure, disposables cost a lot less than rechargeables. But disposables also happen to be safer and more convenient [7]. Forgot to recharge the rechargeables? Too bad, hopefully you can afford to wait for them to recharge. Subscribed to receive disposables? You’re in luck; you know you’ll always have a ready power source on hand when you need it. Below are some more reasons why single-use recyclable batteries may just be the better choice for you:    

Disposable batteries are less expensive

Single-use batteries, such as ours, are undeniably cheaper to buy per unit. Of course, rechargeable batteries are designed to be used multiple times and so the cost per use could be less expensive. However, keep in mind that there are both convenience and environmental costs associated with recharging your batteries8. Having to wait to top off a battery’s lost charge, using coal powered outlets to charge your batteries, and running the risk of having rechargeable batteries leak make the whole process more burdensome than using a single-use, recyclable and carbon-neutral battery like BBCo’s battery box.

Disposable batteries are safer

Perhaps more concerning; rechargeables can pose a greater potential threat to safety. Their components are more prone to wear and tear with continual use, handling, storage, and reuse. Improper storage, for instance, can lead to chemical leakages — or even fire hazards. On balance, disposable batteries are the safer bet when your family’s safety takes top priority.

To be stored safely, rechargeable batteries should be stored at approximately 50% of capacity. Failure to store these batteries properly, outside of their proper packaging, for instance, could risk a fire or other accident. Our single-use, disposable (conveniently recyclable) batteries undergo far less handling, making them less prone to damage or leakage. 

Disposable batteries are more convenient

It goes without saying that rechargeable batteries are of no use to anyone in an emergency without an adequate charge. But they should only be stored with a 50% charge, for safety. So having fully charged batteries on hand, for those unexpected moments when you need them most, is challenging, at best.

During an unexpected power outage, for instance, ask yourself: Which would you rather reach for? Fully charged disposable batteries to power your flashlights or half drained rechargeables? Disposable batteries are always ready to go. They’ll be waiting there, fully charged, in the dark, ready to power your devices and help keep you safe and secure. Rechargeables? Not so much.

Additionally, disposable batteries are usually included in household subscription services -- like BBCo. Ever wish you could receive all the right sizes/voltages of batteries, on a regular schedule of your choosing, so you never have to think about battery readiness again? That is the advantage of a subscription from BBCo. We take the guesswork out of battery preparedness. 

Single-Use Recyclable Batteries Are The Way To Go

Disposable, recyclable batteries from BBCo are an eco-friendly option for convenient, dependable power for your electronic devices. Their design ensures that toxic elements can never be released into the environment, and our recycling model means you get the peace of mind that comes from choosing sustainable, recyclable power sources. While recyclable batteries can also be an environmentally-gentle option, we think the convenience of fully charged, non-toxic batteries gives our product the edge. BBCo invests in carbon offsetting, which means the net carbon footprint of our batteries is as close to zero as possible. Are you ready to power your world with positivity? Order now

 Sources:

  1. https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2016/11/which-battery-is-better-rechargeable-or-disposable/
  2. https://www.call2recycle.org/what-can-i-recycle/#prettyPhoto
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30941546/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12915139/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17092827/ 
  6. https://www.science.org.au/curious/technology-future/why-do-i-have-charge-my-new-rechargeable-batteries-use
  7. https://pennyelectric.com/blog/pros-cons-rechargeable-batteries/
  8. https://pennyelectric.com/blog/pros-cons-rechargeable-batteries/
Previous article +