Everyday enviro with Elise: batteries not included

Everyday enviro with Elise: batteries not included

By Elise Catterall  December 1st, 2021

Batteries are a big no-no in kerbside recycling and rubbish bins, so how do you choose those that will have the longest life and least environmental impact? Find out below.


I think you would be hard pressed to find a household that doesn't have a little stash of AA or AAA batteries tucked into a drawer. As present-giving season approaches, more battery purchases are likely, so what better time to have a chat about the different types of household batteries that are on the market and which might be better for the environment.

As you probably know, a battery — invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800, hence 'volt' being the unit of measurement — is a collection of one or more cells which store energy and provide a current to power electronic devices. AAA, AA, C and D cells are the most common household batteries and typically and come in both single-use, non-rechargeable or ;primary' form, which has the larger market share, and a rechargeable, 'secondary' form. 

In then single-use category, batteries are most commonly alkaline, followed by zinc carbon, zinc chloride or lithium. In the rechargeable category, batteries can be lithium ion (different from the single-use lithium) nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride or lead acid gel.

By far, single-use, non-rechargeable batteries are most popular. They are inexpensive, easy to obtain, easy to use and store, all of which makes them super convenient.  However, the first issue is right there at the top — they are single-use. Add that to the precious resources, both materials and energy, that go into making them, the waste they generate, the risk they pose to landfill and their very ubiquitousness, and we have a pretty significant problem.

And the problem is amplified when we just grab a cheap pack of no-name batteries. They typically have a shorter lifespan, hold less energy, can leak and can self-discharge when not in use. The upshot is that they need to be replaced more often, which means more resources, more waste generation, and so on.

It seems, through life-cycle assessment done by some of the leading and more expensive brands, that, when it comes to single use batteries, you do get what you pay for. A higher price tag equates to higher capacity, longer use per battery, corrosion protection and 'power locking' technology that can see a battery hold its power for up to 10 years.

Rechargeable batteries are more expensive, there is no doubt, but they are worth the investment. Top of the line products, especially lithium ion, provide more power — a higher current output — making them suitable for most types of devices. And they can be recharged hundreds of times.

To me, this outweighs the minor disadvantages they have, mainly related to their capacity which is lower than single-use alkaline batteries. They can also self-discharge a bit when not in use, which means a product won't be fully charged when you go to use it.

The takeaway from all of this is that rechargeable batteries are the way to go, but only as long as we do recharge them. There is no benefit to the environment if we treat them as single use. Whilst that requires a bit of a shift in habits, it shouldn't be too difficult as we are all used to recharging phones, laptops and other devices.

If you do stick with single-use batteries for whatever reason, invest in one of the industry-leading brands, as they have the technology to make them more sustainable and even have some products that are made from post-consumer battery waste.

Regardless of which you buy, all batteries will have an end-of-life and, for the sake of the environment, when this time comes, recycling is absolutely critical.  We must keep batteries out of landfill so that we can reuse the materials, but also to prevent contamination of soil and ground water. 

You can visit https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/ to find out where to recycle batteries.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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