Updated on October 25, 2012
“Green” or “eco-friendly” batteries have been around for a while, but I never really paid them any mind because I never took them seriously for some reason. I mean, can you REALLY make a battery eco-friendly?
Let’s find out!
So lots of searching for keywords like “green battery” or “eco-friendly” battery didn’t show me too much actual information… just a lot of companies trying to sell batteries.
For example, Fuji claims it’s eco-friendly batteries have NO harmful elements, are packaged with recycled materials, last longer and have more power, and can be disposed of in most landfills.
This picture I took at a supermarket claims that the batteries have no lead, mercury, or cadmium. Ok, great. The Go Green Batteries website says that they use recycled materials for packaging, and one of their rechargeable batteries (not these in the picture) can replace 1,000 alkaline disposable batteries.
The most informative info I found was on a site (that also sells batteries) called Green Batteries.
This site gives tips on how to choose the correct battery, properly dispose of not-so-green batteries, and promotes responsible battery usage. For example, “For most electronic devices it is better to use NiMH [Nickel-metal-hydride] batteries than NiCd batteries. NiCd batteries use Cadmium, a highly toxic heavy metal, that can damage the environment if not disposed of properly. (They should be recycled not discarded).”
I didn’t know that. I am also confused about the conflicting information I hear about rechargeable vs. non-rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable clearly means you can use one battery for a longer period of time, therefore reducing waste, but aren’t the chemicals used in the rechargeable batteries much more toxic? Yes, but as long as you properly recycle these batteries, it might turn out better.
Here’s what Green Batteries has to say:
“Lithium-ion batteries can be smaller or lighter, have a higher voltage and hold a charge much longer than other types of [rechargeable] batteries.”
…. so if you buy rechargeable batteries, try to buy the lithium-ion type…. less charging needed….saves on electric usage…and replaces many disposable ones.
“Lithium ion batteries, like all rechargeable batteries are recyclable and should be recycled. They should never be incinerated since they might explode. Most places that sell rechargeable batteries will also accept them back for recycling.”
…. so the bottom line is that all batteries should be recycled, especially if they are rechargeable. I found this article (it’s a few years old now, but the info is very relevant and interesting). Here’s a tidbit from it about the benefits of rechargeable:
According to a study by Uniross carried out in 2007, the production of rechargeable batteries have the following advantages over disposables:
– 23 times less potential impact on non-renewable natural resources
– 28 times less potential impact on global warming
– 30 times less potential impact on air pollution (ozone pollution)
– 9 times less potential impact on air acidification
– 12 times less potential impact on water pollution”
These stats are the same on the website, even for today.
The DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) of NY has a fact sheet that says you do not need to recycle regular (disposable) alkaline or carbon zinc batteries because now they are not made with (as much, or any) mercury. But still, I think I would come to the conclusion that I agree with Green Batteries and the other article above that Lithium-ion rechargeables might be the best bet. They last longer and as long as you properly recycle them, all should be well.
You can recycle batteries at lots of places near you: Walmart, Staples, supermarkets, Target, Home Depot, school campuses, etc. Call2Recycle is a rechargeable battery collection program that recycles batteries into things like new batteries, stainless steel products, and claim that nothing they collect ends up in landfills. This site has a handy feature where you can find recycle points by entering your zip code (home page on the top right). They even have a cool map where you can check out the battery recycling laws in your state (NY and CA seems to cover the most ground in this department).
Project: Put a little box in your utility closet or in a drawer somewhere where you can store your used batteries (not in direct sunlight), and drop it off at a recycle point probably no more than once or twice a year. Easy!
So, to answer my initial question, can you really make a battery eco-friendly?… I guess the answer is: sort of.
You, as the producer, can make batteries free of harmful chemicals, create a quality product that lasts a long time, use recycled materials and minimize packaging, and provide good resources and information for proper recycling.
You, as the consumer, can think a little more carefully about the electronics you use and can make informed decisions about the batteries you buy… and most important, take the time to drop off your batteries at a recycling point.
All it takes is a bit of effort!