I’ve long been on the fence about using replaceable or rechargeable batteries in my field equipment. Cameras, lights, and other gadgets that must be depended on in the field must have a power resource you can trust. If the batteries die or are otherwise unreliable, then they’re not very useful to you.
This has led me to switch back and forth between using rechargeable batteries and standard alkaline for my gear. While it might seem as though rechargeable is the logical choice for both cost and the environment, I’ve found the choice to be less than clear cut, myself.
I’ll note here that rechargeable batteries are quite often replaceable. Except in some cases (such as the iPhone) where replacing one of these batteries is a major warranty-voiding pain in the neck, you can often replace a rechargeable battery. The title is the way it is because this is how many people refer to them. Better distinctions might be non-rechargeable and rechargeable. Either way, that’s how we’re looking at them for the purpose of this article.
Rechargeable batteries in a laptop or a mobile phone are a little different from the ones intended to replace AA or AAA batteries in your portable devices. The technology may be pretty much the same, but for some reason, I have a hard time placing my trust in them. These batteries (by a variety of manufacturers) seem to lose their charge much faster than standard or high-capacity, non-rechargeable ones. This leads me to have to purchase more of them to get the same job done. Due to the higher costs involved, this is only a savings in the very long term.
Putting standard alkaline batteries in an LED panel, for example, results in all five indicator lights coming up when the battery test button is pushed. This indicates that the batteries have a significant charge that should get me through the day. Even fully charged, high-capacity rechargeables haven’t done the same for me, and they lose their charge so quickly that I’ve had to replace them halfway through the day.
High-capacity alkaline batteries made for electronic devices with higher demands have performed a little better than the regular ones, which puts them well above the rechargeables I’ve used.
Granted, not all rechargeable batteries are the same. Some have higher capacities than others, and the charger you use also has an impact on charge efficiency. I can’t say it’s the same across the board, but I can depend on standard batteries to have a full charge when I put them in a device for the first time.
I know exactly what to expect when I put a standard battery in a device. The charge from one battery to another with the same brand and labeling is consistent. My battery testers are also designed to pinpoint exactly how much charge is left in a standard battery, while rechargeables aren’t so easily metered by standard equipment.
One problem I’ve found with rechargeable batteries across the board is that they eventually start to dip in capacity. Where a battery could last eight hours in a device, it may only last seven after a number of uses. From there, its capacity continues to decline until ultimately I have to replace them.
There’s no question that rechargeable batteries offer a greater long-term value to the user. These batteries can be charged using minimal electricity from an outlet and made available at capacity within one to six hours. Even non-traditional rechargeable batteries such as those found in mobile phones offer a great value than a user would otherwise enjoy if they were constantly replacing traditional batteries.
Let’s not also forget the flexibility of various form factors. Device manufacturers can design a device with a specific shape of battery in mind. It would be at an outrageous cost if custom battery sizes and shapes were to be made non-rechargeable. It makes perfect sense in these instances.
Where the debate might be had is in the higher initial cost of a rechargeable battery made in AA, AAA, D, and 9V varieties. Like a CFL bulb, the cost is higher but the life of the product in the long term is significantly longer. In the world of value, rechargeability is king.
The impact on the environment of single-use batteries and rechargeables is very different. Both will eventually find their way to the junk yard. Recycling techniques have evolved over the years, and there’s a lot to be said about the ability to recycle a battery.
Rechargeable batteries typically targeted for recycling include: nickel-cadmium (Ni-CD), nickel metal hydride, lithium ion, and small-sealed lead. Alkaline non-rechargeable batteries are also recyclable.
That makes quantity, not recyclability, the differentiating factor here. Not everyone recycles. Likewise, not everyone disposes of batteries properly. You need less rechargeable batteries over a long period of time. I can go through 24 non-rechargeable batteries in no time. Meanwhile, I’d still be using the same rechargeables.
As far as the environment goes, it looks like rechargeable batteries have an edge. There might be some argument about which battery’s manufacturing process does more damage to the environment, though. I don’t presently have enough information in front of me to speak to either side of that argument.
Which battery type do you use in your devices? Do you trust your wireless mouse, camera, or remote control to one over another? Leave a comment and let us know.
Batteries by Petr Kratochvil