Are Rechargeable Batteries Eco-Friendly? 9 Important Facts

Savanna Stanfield

It’s amazing how the world of electronics and technology continues to change throughout the years.

Arguably, one of the most valuable developments has been rechargeable batteries. 

These batteries come in common sizes and although they are a bit more expensive upfront, they can save you a ton of money in the long run due to not having to constantly replace batteries when they run out of juice.

But is saving money the only benefit of these batteries, or are they good for the environment as well?

The answer to this question is that rechargeable batteries are more eco-friendly than disposable batteries, but they aren’t completely eco-friendly themselves.

Continue reading to learn more about the eco-friendliness of rechargeable batteries as well as what the most eco-friendly rechargeable batteries are.

1. What Are Rechargeable Batteries Made Of?

The most common material for rechargeable batteries to be made of is lithium-ion.

Materials such as nickel-metal hydride and nickel-cadmium have been used in the past, but they aren’t as prevalent anymore.

The reason for this is that nickel-cadmium batteries don’t hold a charge for long and quickly lose battery capacity upon being recharged. 

Nickel metal hydride batteries hold a charge for longer, but their overall shelf life isn’t as long. 

Lithium-ion proved to be the best material due to its ability to hold a charge for a long period of time, as well as having a longer life.

However, lithium-ion is often used for larger batteries such as car batteries rather than the smaller batteries that are used to power our electronics.

Smaller batteries such as AAA, AA, C, D, etc. are still made from nickel-metal hydride, which comes with its challenges.

They’ll lose their charge faster and have a shorter shelf life if you don’t charge them correctly.

It’s very important with these types of batteries that you don’t overcharge them, which can decrease their capacity.

You also have to make sure that you let them discharge completely before charging them again.

Even though nickel-metal hydride rechargeable batteries don’t last quite as long as lithium-ion batteries, you can still get hundreds of charges out of them.

They will still last longer than non-rechargeable, disposable batteries as well.

2. Are Rechargeable Batteries Bad for the Environment?

Whether or not rechargeable batteries are bad for the environment is somewhat controversial.

On the one hand, using rechargeable batteries reduces the need for more disposable batteries to have to be used.

If the rechargeable batteries were used until the end of their life, it would lower the number of batteries in a landfill since you wouldn’t have to replace the batteries as often.

As more people get on board with using rechargeable batteries, there are fewer rechargeable batteries that would end up in landfills.

Assuming that all or most batteries were replaced by rechargeable batteries as well, it would lower the number of batteries that need to be produced since rechargeable batteries have a longer life than disposable batteries.

On the other hand, even rechargeable batteries are made with toxic metals, including nickel, cadmium, and to a lesser extent, cobalt and other metals.

These batteries won’t last forever and will have to be disposed of eventually.

If they aren’t disposed of correctly, these toxic metals can contaminate soil and water resources which can harm the environment and humans as they break down. 

Plus, the process of collecting the metals used to make batteries isn’t eco-friendly either, as these metals are collected through mining and then smelted to extract the metal from the ore.

Mining negatively affects the environment through habitat and biodiversity loss, as well as water and soil contamination.

Plus, the ores that are extracted are non-renewable resources.

Once the metal ores are mined, smelting them also uses large amounts of energy. 

The process of making the batteries uses large amounts of energy as well.

But again, all of these negative effects could be lessened if more people switched to using rechargeable batteries so that fewer batteries have to be produced.

3. Are Rechargeable Batteries More Eco-Friendly Than Disposable Ones?

Simply because they can be reused, rechargeable batteries are more eco-friendly than disposable ones. 

You can use rechargeable batteries for longer before having to throw them away, reducing the number of batteries that end up in a landfill.

However, once rechargeable batteries do get thrown away, they aren’t necessarily more eco-friendly than disposable ones.

They don’t decompose quickly, but if they do start to break down, it will put some of the toxic metals that make up batteries into the environment.

Plus, rechargeable batteries are still made out of similar materials and are made in pretty much the same way as disposable batteries. 

4. Are Rechargeable Batteries Recyclable?

One of the great things about rechargeable batteries that is eco-friendly is that they can often be recycled.

Recycling rechargeable batteries helps to keep them out of landfills, but batteries usually aren’t accepted through curbside recycling programs or at municipal recycling facilities. 

Batteries, including rechargeable ones, can be recycled at specialized battery recycling facilities.

Some retail stores, including home improvement and hardware stores – and in some cases, office supply stores – may have collection bins for used batteries. 

Check with these types of stores in your area to see if they accept batteries for recycling.

You can also recycle various materials, including rechargeable and other types of batteries, through programs such as Call2Recycle.

5. Are Rechargeable Batteries More Sustainable?

In the sense that they can be reused over and over again, rechargeable batteries are more sustainable than disposable batteries. 

They can also be recycled, but they are only sustainable in this way if people actually do recycle them at the end of the battery’s life.

As far as what they are made of – non-renewable metals – and how they are made, rechargeable batteries are not necessarily more sustainable.

But again, since they can be reused, it does negate some of the unsustainability in that sense.

6. Are Rechargeable Batteries Toxic?

We’ve already touched on this a little: rechargeable batteries are toxic due to what they’re made of.

But, all batteries are toxic, regardless of whether they are rechargeable.

What the rechargeable battery is made of, as well as how it is disposed of, depends on how toxic it is. 

Nickel-cadmium batteries are the most toxic, and if they are disposed of with regular trash that is then incinerated, cadmium poisoning can occur just due to inhalation.

Plus, nickel-cadmium batteries contain nickel as well, which is potentially carcinogenic.

It’s nickel that makes nickel-metal hydride batteries toxic as well, especially as they break down in landfills.

Lithium-ion batteries are the safest, but they can rupture when exposed to high temperatures, and if the batteries were to catch on fire, the smoke inhalation can cause damage to the lungs.

7. Are Rechargeable Batteries Hazardous Waste?

Rechargeable batteries are considered to be hazardous waste due to containing the toxic metals that were mentioned above.

The potential risks of batteries as mentioned above occur mainly when the batteries are disposed of incorrectly.

This is why it’s so important to recycle batteries or dispose of them properly.

8. Which Are the Most Eco-Friendly Rechargeable Batteries?

Even though rechargeable batteries are more eco-friendly than disposable batteries, there are some rechargeable batteries that are more eco-friendly than others.

1. Pale Blue Earth

Pale Blue Earth rechargeable batteries are made with lithium-ion instead of nickel-metal hydride, so they are safer for the environment than other rechargeable batteries.

These batteries also charge faster than other rechargeable batteries.

Each battery has a micro-USB port on it, so you just plug them directly into the adapter that is also rechargeable.

2. Energizer Recharge

Energizer’s Recharge batteries are made of 4% recycled materials.

They can be recharged up to 1,000 times and last 5 to 8 hours with each charge.

3. Panasonic Eneloop

Panasonic Eneloop batteries are more eco-friendly in the sense that they are capable of being charged over 2,000 times and can last longer than 10 years.

After 10 years, they’ll still have up to 70% of their charging capabilities and won’t lose memory with increased charging.

4. Better Battery Co.

The Better Battery Company makes rechargeable batteries that are entirely carbon-free.

The company also has a no-landfill policy as well as a built-in recycling program.

9. Are There Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Rechargeable Batteries?

There aren’t any eco-friendly alternatives to rechargeable batteries that are currently on the market. 

In a world where so many products rely on batteries, especially specific types of batteries, rechargeable batteries are the most eco-friendly – especially the four brands mentioned above.

However, there are eco-friendly ways to charge some types of rechargeable batteries in the form of solar-powered battery packs.

Solar-powered battery packs won’t work for every piece of equipment that runs on batteries.

But you can use them to charge things such as cell phones and other technology that are capable of plugging into the battery pack.

How to Dispose of Rechargeable Batteries

The best way to dispose of rechargeable batteries is to find a way to recycle them, if possible.

Recycling batteries can help keep them more eco-friendly and sustainable. 

If you can’t recycle them, remember that they are considered to be hazardous waste and you shouldn’t throw them away with the rest of your trash.

It’s best to collect all used batteries in a box or plastic tub. You’ll also want to tape the terminals to prevent a fire risk, especially in 9-volt and lithium-ion batteries.

Take all of the batteries to a hazardous waste disposal facility. You can check with your local waste authority for locations of these facilities.

Conclusion

Because of how long they last and how long they can be reused, rechargeable batteries can be a great eco-friendly alternative to disposal batteries.

Rechargeable batteries do have some environmental concerns, especially if they aren’t disposed of properly since they are made with toxic metals.

However, these batteries are often recyclable, which helps them be more eco-friendly and prevents them from ending up in a landfill.

If more people bought rechargeable batteries, it would also reduce the number of disposal batteries that end up in landfills and reduce the production of batteries as well.

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