It seems it is impossible to lead a modern life without batteries. They are in our phones, cars and doorbells. But what is the most eco-friendly battery? I am always confused which batteries to buy. I know they are all toxic and harmful to the environment, but I can’t avoid them all together – my smoke alarm needs one for example. We try to reduce the need for batteries by not buying battery-operated toys or not using a remote control (we don’t have a TV and use our laptops as entertainment centers), but the question remains, if I need a battery which one do I buy?
If you want a quick answer, feel free to skip to the bottom. If you would like to know more about reducing the use of batteries, recycling batteries and what options we can expect in near future read on.
Types of batteries and their uses
There are a few different types of batteries in common use:
single use batteries – there are many different ones, like AA, AAA or little round batteries for watches or kitchen scales
Lithium-Ion (Li-on) – rechargeable batteries for laptops and phones, and other devices
Ni-MH (nickel-metal hybride) – latest technology in rechargeable batteries; these can be recharged up to 1000 times (at around 2p per charge – much cheaper than buying new batteries!)
Ni-Cd (nickel-cadmium) – is an old technology, not as good at holding the energy and more toxic; it is on the way out
car batteries – a constantly recharging battery, which makes sure lights and horn in your car are working
Rechargeable batteries can’t be used in devices which use only small amounts of energy, like smoke alarms. It’s not efficient because rechargeable batteries lose some power even when not in use. Single use batteries are a more efficient power source for this type of appliance.
Use less batteries – how and why
Here’s a few reasons you really need to use less batteries:
toxic metals and harmful chemicals are used to produce batteries
according to estimates it takes between 100-1000 years for a battery to decompose
it takes 50 times more energy to make a battery compared with the energy it will provide
And here is a few simple things you can do to use less batteries:
avoid buying items requiring batteries, choosing something, which can be powered from the mains electricity
use rechargeable batteries and ideally recharge them with solar charger (these are easy to buy online)
use things like solar powered lights – the technology is there and these charge even on dark days
Why recycle batteries
About 30,000 tonnes of batteries end-up on the landfills in UK. Once there they corrode and spill their toxic content of metals and chemicals into soil and water. These are harmful to humans, environment and wildlife. The numbers sound quite scary!
About 90% of materials used to make the battery can be recovered and reused – that’s a number I like the sound of.
If you would like to know what happens with the materials recovered from the batteries you can read more in here.
How to recycle batteries
ALL batteries can be recycled. That’s including car batteries, power tool batteries and the tiny button batteries in our watches. UK has a target of recycling 45% of batteries by 2017, so there are a few schemes, which try to make it easier for us to recycle:
shops selling large amounts of batteries are obliged to provide collection bins for used batteries
some schools and libraries have battery collection points
local councils either accept batteries with recycling or provide information how to recycle batteries locally (check your council’s website)
here’s a handy recycling point locator – just enter your post code
What is the battery of the future
There are some very exciting technologies being developed, which will hopefully soon replace the batteries we currently use.
American scientist have developed an organic water-based battery, which replaces the toxic metals and harmful chemicals with organic compounds. It is 10 times cheaper to manufacture, recharges up to 5000 times (compared to 1000 in conventional rechargeable batteries) and is environmentally friendly.
Swedish scientists are working on a battery based on alfalfa seeds and pine resin, it is said to have power comparable to standard lithium battery (the type found in laptops and phones). Naturally this is much safer for the environment and much easier to recycle. It is also cheaper to manufacture.
A refillable sugar battery could be used in laptops and gadgets as soon as 2017! This is an invention of another American lab. These batteries can hold 10 times the power of currently used Lithium batteries, so your smart phone could last 10 times longer – wouldn’t that be great! The main by-product of this battery is water, so it’s perfectly eco-friendly.
If you want to find out if the battery is still good bounce it on the floor. If it bounces it’s still good, an old battery won’t bounce. – I’m yet to try this!
Currently the most eco-friendly battery is…
The most eco-friendly (and wallet friendly at the same time) is the rechargeable battery (Ni-MH type). It costs more to buy initially, plus the cost of the charger, but in the long run it is much cheaper at 2p per charge (up to 1000 charges), compared to buying single-use batteries. I like this one, as it is made by a reliable brand.
There are exceptions though. It is better to use a single-use battery in low energy appliances, things like watches, door bells and smoke alarms.