Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kick the disposable battery habit

Kick the Disposable Battery Habit
August 2009
Read this issue of Greentips online

Americans buy about three billion household batteries (about 10 per person) annually, according to the Environmental Protection Agency—and nearly all of them end up in landfills. The next time you need to power up your gadgets, choose rechargeable batteries instead. Unlike disposable alkaline batteries, rechargeable batteries can be reused hundreds of times, which not only saves money and resources, but also reduces global warming pollution associated with battery manufacturing and transport. An independent study conducted for battery manufacturer UNIROSS estimates that using a disposable battery to create 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity has a global warming impact equivalent to driving a car 283 miles; using a rechargeable battery is equivalent to driving 10 miles.

Rechargeable battery technology continues to evolve, but there are only a few types widely available today:

  • Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) is the most common rechargeable battery type. Like their nickel-cadmium predecessors (see below), NiMH batteries come in standard sizes (AAA, A, C, D, and 9V) but are considered less toxic and offer superior performance. New “low-self-drain” (or “hybrid”) NiMH batteries come fully charged, like alkaline batteries, and stay charged longer, making them good for slow-drain gadgets like remote controls.

  • Nickel-cadmium (NiCad or NiCd) batteries have fallen from favor in recent years because they contain cadmium, a carcinogen. However, older handheld tools may still run on NiCads, and they are still sold in stores.

  • Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are mostly used in high-end electronics like laptops and cell phones, as the battery’s light weight and high storage capacity help improve gadgets’ portability. They are more expensive than other rechargeable batteries, however, due to their advanced circuitry, and are currently unavailable in standard sizes.

No matter which type of rechargeable batteries you use, you can make them even greener using these strategies:

  • Choose an energy-efficient charger. Energy Star-rated models use 35 percent less energy than standard chargers, while solar-powered battery chargers use no electricity at all. For further energy savings, look for a “smart” charger that shuts off when the batteries are fully charged (overcharging shortens battery life). Regardless of charger type, unplug it when it is not being used as it will continue to draw electricity even when not charging.

  • Care for idle batteries. Do not leave batteries uncharged or unused for long periods, which can shorten their life. Remove batteries from infrequently used devices and store away from heat and moisture.

  • Dispose of batteries properly. Rechargeable batteries contain toxic materials and should not be thrown out with regular trash. When purchasing batteries, ask the retailer whether it takes them back for recycling; if it does not, you may be able to bring them to your municipal hazardous waste facility or a local recycling center (see the Related Resources).

Related Resources

Bio Intelligence Service—Ditch the Disposable Lifestyle(pdf)

California Integrated Waste Management Board—Rechargeable Batteries and Chargers

Energy Star—Battery charging systems

Earth 911—Battery Recycling Locations

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