But so many children’s toys need them. Before having a baby, I could probably count on one hand the number of devices we had in the house that required batteries to operate. Most of those were remote controls. Now it seems, I’m constantly pulling out a screwdriver to switch out batteries on one noise-making-lights-flashing-probably-bouncing-or-vibrating device or another. It has been years since I had to buy C or D batteries (probably not since I was rocking out on my boom-box in the late 80s/early 90s) now I use them every day. I know lots of parents that buy boat-loads of batteries at Costco, but I will not be joining those ranks. Sustainable habit 18 – buy rechargeable batteries.
Obviously, there are pros and cons for using rechargeable batteries vs. single-use batteries.
First, there’s the cost. Rechargeable batteries cost more up front and they can be a bit more difficult to find in stores, certain sizes in particular. But some rechargeables are apparently good for up to 1000 charges. That’s a lot of single-use batteries you won’t have to buy, even if you get 100 charges out of your batteries. You can go ahead and nitpick about the cost of charging, but then you’d have to be fair and factor in the cost of gas to go out and buy new single-use batteries. At the end of the day, you’re likely saving money with rechargeable batteries (even if you have a Costco membership and can keep a case of AAAs in the basement). This guy researched the costs of rechargeable vs single-use more thoroughly than I have and rechargeables come out as the clear winner based solely on costs (although, to be fair, that was in 2008). The upside of the high upfront cost is that we’re going to have to be more selective about which toys and devices get batteries until we have a larger set of batteries to work with. That means less plastic things scattered around the house playing annoying songs!
Second there’s the waste. According to a 2009 Environment Canada study, there were approximately 418 million single-use alkaline batteries sold in Canada in 2007 compared to approximately 16.45 million nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and 6.4 million nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries. That’s a whole lot of batteries; a lot of which are going back into landfill (which they shouldn’t! more about that later). I would wager that most of the 418 million single use batteries bought in 2007 have been thrown out or recycled and that some of those rechargeable batteries are still out there working. While I know that alkaline batteries no longer contain mercury, that doesn’t mean that they are harmless. Consider the amount of steel, zinc and manganese (along with all of the other substances in batteries) that ended up in landfill as a result of the 418 million batteries sold in 2007 and all of the years before that, and since then. I know, lots of people are hanging on to those batteries at the back of a drawer until they remember to drop them off somewhere for recycling, but there are still a lot of batteries being disposed of in landfill…and that doesn’t even scratch the surface when you consider all of the mercury that made it to landfills before 1993.
Unfortunately, rechargeable NiCd and NiMH batteries contain toxic materials and need to be disposed of as such. That means finding a recycling program and dropping them off…which isn’t really all that hard. There are a number of stores that collect single-use and rechargeable batteries to be recycled and many municipalities will accept batteries along with other hazardous waste. I think I’ve just figured out my 19th sustainable habit – find out where all of my household waste should really go.