Are Rechargeable Batteries Better for the Environment?

Rechargeable batteries are an excellent idea when it comes to saving money, especially for high-drain devices. But are they the most eco-friendly choice? We’ll tell you the whole truth.

In principle, rechargeable batteries are definitely better for the environment. They are cheaper and eco-friendly only when you use them to their full capacity. Some experts say that if a rechargeable battery is used at least 150 times and disposed of efficiently, only then does it make it eco-friendly.

The idea of batteries that are both eco-friendly and cheaper than regular, single-use batteries that can be reused hundreds of times is a big one. Do rechargeable batteries live up to it and what’s the catch?

This is a common question among those who want to switch over to these magical little cylinders. Keep reading to know the why and how of the eco-friendly promise.

How Are Rechargeable Batteries Better for the Environment

A lot of small portable electronics run on batteries of different kinds. Alkaline batteries are some of the most commonly used ones. And disposable batteries of this kind are easily available. But using them once and discarding them is an expensive and inefficient way to function. This is not just for industries but also for consumers who use batteries in their everyday life.

This led to the creation of rechargeable batteries. On the face of it, they are a bit more expensive than single-use batteries but if you understand the process and their benefits, you will agree that it is worth the investment.

Now, quite often, rechargeable batteries are also promoted as being an eco-friendly option. And the obvious explanation is that we use them more often and don’t have to discard them as quickly as disposable batteries.

This means they won’t end up in landfills as often reducing our overall battery waste. But that is only the first point in favor of rechargeable batteries because there is more to the story.

Let’s start at the beginning.

We know that Americans buy about 3 billion dry-cell batteries every year. We also know that these batteries contain metals like nickel, cadmium, mercury and such while wet batteries contain liquid electrolytes.

When these metals and electrolytes end up in the landfill because they were not properly recycled—which is the case more often than not—they react with each other, turning into toxic waste in both landfills and the air they come into contact with.

One way to tackle this problem is to recycle the batteries. This helps recover some of the plastic and the metals can be put back into use for making new batteries. But is that the best we can do?

On the contrary, switching to rechargeable batteries gives you many different kinds of benefits. You can use the same set of batteries hundreds of times if you maintain them well. In the long run, that will save you a lot of money.

From a manufacturing point of view, since they are used multiple times, there is no need to manufacture as many batteries when compared to single-use batteries. This means fewer of them need to be transported.

And last but most importantly, the manufacturing process of rechargeable batteries does not involve the usage of as many non-renewable resources when compared to single-use batteries.

When it comes to environmental factors, single-use batteries contain heavy and corrosive materials along with harmful chemicals. When they are not disposed of properly, they add to global warming 28 times more than rechargeable batteries. Single-use batteries also cause 30 times more air pollution, 12 times more water pollution and nine times to acidification of the air.

And finally, the rechargeable batteries we use today last longer in one cycle than a single-use battery. This makes them more suitable for devices that are drainers. They also do not add to as much harmful waste in landfills as single-use batteries.

But a little about the usage caveat.

Studies have shown that while all the above-mentioned factors are true when it comes to arguing in favor of rechargeable batteries, one must remember that this works out well for the environment only if they are reused enough times. That means, a battery that can be reused thousands of times must be used as close to its saturation point as possible.

For instance, the most common types of batteries are rechargeable NiMH batteries and alkaline batteries. One study concluded that you need to reuse rechargeable batteries for about 50 cycles so that they don’t cause as much damage to the environment as alkaline batteries.

This means that buying rechargeable batteries is a smart solution for the environment only if you use them regularly, use them instead of disposable batteries and recycle them properly.

But it is also worth remembering that gifting rechargeable batteries and chargers for occasions is a great way to get everyone to crossover to the eco-friendly side of the argument.

About recycling these batteries. Curbside recycling carts might not be an option but some retail outlets are required by law in states like California, to take back rechargeable batteries. You can also look up organizations that do this for free in your neighborhood.

And if there is a recycling facility in your region, you will have plenty of collection facilities that will take batteries and some other items too. You might have to make an appointment but it is worth the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Rechargeable Batteries Less Harmful to the Environment?

Rechargeable batteries do not use as many heavy metals or corrosive materials in the manufacturing. They can and must be used for a longer period of time before they completely give up which makes them a durable option.

That way, they also don’t end up in landfills as often. When they are responsibly disposed of, rechargeable batteries also don’t cause as much air acidification and water pollution as regular single-use batteries.

What Is the Most Environmentally Friendly Battery?

Many rechargeable batteries can be reused up to 1,000 times. These are the ones to pick. While you’re at it, you might also want to see if the manufacturer is producing goods that do not engage with conflict mineral procurement. This means that the manufacturer declares that they are not procuring raw materials in a way that increases conflict in a certain region. This is similar to diamond manufacturers declaring that the stones they procure are conflict-free.

Do Rechargeable Batteries Reduce Pollution?

Yes, they do by not causing as much damage as single-use batteries do. As mentioned earlier, they contribute to global warming 28 times less than single-use batteries. They cause 30 times less air pollution, 9 times less air acidification and 12 times less water pollution than disposable batteries.

But you must also remember that they need to be recycled properly. When that does not happen, batteries end up in landfills where they leak and decay. Once the battery starts to corrode, the chemicals that it is made of seep into the soil and contaminate both ground and surface water.

This affects the plants and animals that depend on natural sources of water. But that is not all, it even affects humans because the chemicals seep into tap water.  And if lithium batteries are not properly disposed of, they can cause fires in landfills that can go on for years at a time.

This once again contaminates the air and adds to global warming. The vapor from these toxic fumes gets absorbed by the atmosphere and finds its way back into water bodies through rain.

Are Rechargeable Batteries Better for the Planet?

They most definitely are better if they are used to their full capacity. Depending on the type of battery and the manufacturer some rechargeable batteries can be reused thousands of times. They are cheaper in the long run only if you use them as many times as you can.

But it is not just about the money. They are also an eco-friendly choice because you won’t be throwing away a whole set of them after using them just once.

About the author, Phil Borges

Phil Borges is a battery aficionado. He's written extensively about batteries, and he loves nothing more than discussing the latest innovations in the industry. He has a deep understanding of how batteries work, and he's always on the lookout for new ways to improve their performance.