Battle of the Batteries: Disposable vs. Rechargeable

rechargeable batteries

As the world becomes more gadget oriented, batteries are a fact of life for many people in the U.S. Individuals and families interested in leading greener lives will eventually ask the question of whether or not rechargeable batteries are really a better choice for the planet than traditional disposable batteries.

The short answer is yes. But it hasn’t always been that way. Keep reading to learn a few facts about batteries and what a difference the right kinds of batteries – and battery disposal – can mean for the planet.

Single Use or Disposable Batteries

With a long history behind them, disposable batteries have undergone a few changes in recent years. While better for the planet than the batteries of yesterday, today’s disposable batteries still contain heavy metals that must be properly disposed of.

Batteries of the past contained high levels of mercury. In recent years the amount of mercury used in the making of alkaline batteries has decreased significantly, though they do still contain a small amount of the mercury – enough that they need to be recycled rather than thrown in the garbage to make their way to landfills.

For some, the concern isn’t so much the small amounts of mercury in the batteries themselves, but the sheer volume of batteries used each year that poses the significant problem.

Green Living Tips reports that Japan produced more than 75 million alkaline batteries in June of 2013 alone. That number represents a 96 percent increase of production over the previous year.

What this means is that despite alternatives, such as rechargeable batteries, dependence upon disposable single use batteries is growing instead of diminishing.

Rechargeable Batteries

There have been some impressive advances in rechargeable battery technology over the past decade or so. When first introduced to the market, there were some critical flaws in the design of rechargeable batteries – one of the most important being the “memory loss” associated with failing to completely discharge the battery prior to recharging it.

The newer batteries are powered by Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), and they do not suffer from the memory loss effect, making them a much better fit for today’s busy families, individuals, and professionals.

These are a few of the benefits rechargeable batteries represent.

Planet Friendly

First, let’s talk numbers. The 75 million batteries Japan produced in one month back in 2013 would be used and then have to be disposed of somehow. A few people around the world will go to the effort to recycle their disposable batteries as they are legally required to. Unfortunately, many more will not. This leads to substantial environmental impacts that include heavy metals, harmful chemicals, corrosive materials, and more.

The bottom line is that despite efforts by governments, local and international alike, to curtail the effect batteries are having on the planet, the sheer number of them in need of proper disposal each month is a substantial problem for the planet.

Rechargeable batteries help solve that problem because they are not only made with more planet-friendly materials, but also because they are reusable rather than a one-and-done product. This means that barring going through proper recycling processes, as they should, they will not proliferate landfills to quite the extent that standard alkaline batteries do.


Many people are surprised to discover that when using devices known to drain traditional batteries, rechargeable batteries tend to last longer. This means longer periods of time before replacing or recharging the batteries is required.

Money Saving Benefits of Rechargeable Batteries

The average U.S. household spends a small fortune each year in batteries. The more electronics in the household, the higher those numbers can go. From alarm clocks to toothbrushes and all manner of consumer electronics in between, batteries are a way of life for the average family. By making a higher value initial purchase, individuals can save a great deal of money on replacement batteries over the course of a year.

Most families find that the rechargeable batteries easily pay for themselves after the first charge. The more the family tends to rely on batteries, the bigger those savings will be.

No Worries Over Running Out of Batteries

The other benefit of rechargeable batteries is that you don’t have to worry about running out of batteries at a critical moment. If you always have a rotation of batteries going through chargers and devices, there should always be a fresh set ready to go when they are needed most.

REI states that NiMH rechargeable batteries can be reused between 150 and 500 or more times per battery.  This makes them an excellent choice, particularly for things like children’s toys and other devices that tend to burn through traditional alkaline batteries.

Why are Disposable Batteries Bad for the Planet?

It’s the combination of large volume use and the devastating cocktail of ingredients in alkaline batteries that makes them such a poor choice for the planet. According to Environment, Health, and Safety Online, batteries are capable of presenting many potential environmental hazards including the pollution of lakes and streams, heavy metal pollution in landfills, lead and acid in water, and burns to the eyes and skin.

How to Properly Dispose of Batteries

The only way to properly dispose of single use batteries is through recycling programs that break them down into their smallest possible components and then eliminate what is left over.

Earth 911 is an amazing resource that helps you connect with locations in your area where you can recycle batteries according to type. Call 2 Recycle is another option for proper battery recycling and disposal.

Some local battery shops will allow consumers to come in and drop off dead batteries during business hours. Be sure to check and see if your favorite battery shop offers this option.

While rechargeable batteries may have had a bit of a rocky start, they’ve made up for lost time since those humble beginnings. Today’s rechargeable batteries offer a wide range of benefits over alkaline disposable batteries. The most important of those benefits are the ones they provide the planet.

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