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I try to use NiMH rechargeables in place of regular disposables. The obvious benefit of rechargeables is that not as many wind up in a landfill, but what if you recycle all your batteries anyway? Are there other environmental benefits to rechargeables in term of fewer resources or less energy used overall when considering production, lifetime, and recycling costs?

  • Not qualified to answer, but it is a useful question. Most batteries that I assume you are asking about (AA, AAA, C, D, etc.) are so small that I would think the recycling process would be inefficient. That is, the ratio of casing material to battery content is relatively high and and the cases seem difficult to remove cleanly, resulting in poor recycling efficiency. – Smilin Brian Sep 16 '14 at 20:43
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According to this study by Uniross, yes - rechargables are beneficial overall. Up to 32 times more beneficial! This is mainly due to reducing the amount of energy required to manufacture - as well as reducing the amount of waste.

Based on each kwh produced, the study states that rechargable batteries produce:

  • 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 (ozone pollution)
  • 9 times less potential impact on air acidification
  • 2 times less potential impact on water pollution

Uniross also provides some advice to reduce the environmental impact of your batteries as much as possible:

  • Maximising lifetime
    • Avoid High Temperatures
    • Charge Regularly
    • Don't overcharge
  • Recycle end product
    • Allows reuse of metals/prevent toxic metals entering environment

Additionally:

  • Be aware rechargables have a much higher energy leakage rate than standard batteries. Only charge when required, and consider storing charged batteries in a fridge/freezer, which can dramatically reduce the leakage rate. [source]

- N.B. Uniross are rechargable battery manufacturers - I would expect an element of bias in their study. But the overall idea seems right!

[Additional Source]

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