Even though batteries were first invented more than 200 years ago, they continue to power our lives.
Every year, Americans buy 3 billion dry cell batteries, like AAA and coin batteries, that are commonly used in household objects. Just this week, I swapped out batteries in my voice recorder, my toddler’s pretend cell phone, and a handheld fan we bring to the beach.
But batteries are also a source of toxic waste. In the U.S., a very small percentage—4%, by some estimates—are recycled. The rest end up in landfills where toxic chemicals they contain, including lithium and sulfuric acid, leak out. This contaminates the groundwater, damages local ecosystems, and makes their way into the food chain.
The problem is that battery recycling is not particularly convenient. Since there aren’t curbside battery recycling programs, people need to collect their batteries and take them to a collection point. For many people, this is just too troublesome.
The startup Better Battery Co. wants to make it easier for us to recycle batteries. Through its website and Amazon, the company sells boxes of the most common batteries used by households, like AA and AAA. The packaging also doubles as a container for their return simplifying the recycling process.
The box, which is made from recycled cardboard, is cleverly designed to help the user identify which batteries are new and which have been depleted. The batteries sit tidily inside the box, with individual little slots keeping them all in place. They’re organized in a little winding trail, so you can take out one battery at a time, in order. Each one has a white end and a blue end. When you put a used battery back in the box, you turn it upside down, so the white end is visible. When the trail path has turned from blue to white, it’s ready to recycle the batteries.
BBCo is a family business run by sisters, Jaclyn Byles and Jessica Jenkins. It was daunting to launch the business, Byles says, because the industry has long been dominated by two players, Energizer and Duracell, which in 2021 generated $3 billion and $2.1 billion in revenue, respectively. Other big technology companies, like Panasonic and Sony also manufacture batteries. “It’s very difficult to be a small startup trying to take a bit of market share away from the larger players,” she says. “But we’re trying to stand out by offering a much more sustainable alternative.”