Save money, save waste and never run out of batteries again.

We rely on batteries for everything these days – they’re in our smartphones, our household gadgets, even our cars. And while we might not have much say in the types of battery that are used in these appliances, we’re still rinsing through the good ol’ AA and AAA varieties.

In fact, it’s estimated that we throw away 600 million batteries in the UK each year, and with only 27% being recycled, that’s more than 20,000 tonnes of battery waste going straight to landfill. Not only is this a huge waste of the materials contained within each battery, it’s a huge waste of the energy needed to create them. Did you know that it takes 50 times more energy to make a battery than the finished battery actually produces? And it gets worse. If a battery isn’t disposed of properly, its chemicals can leach into the ground, harming wildlife and even humans if we eat food from contaminated soil or sea.

In February 2010, new legislation was introduced in the UK that makes it easier for consumers to recycle their used batteries. Any shop that sells more than 32kg of batteries a year (the equivalent of one four-pack of AA batteries a day), must provide recycling facilities on site. Just look out for the ‘Be Positive’ sign.

But recycling batteries properly still doesn’t address the issue of wasted resources and energy, so what’s to be done? Simply put: rechargeable batteries. Unlike disposable batteries, rechargeables can be used over and over again. Some brands will last for hundreds of charges before their capacity runs out.

Now, for some low-drain scenarios where gadgets don’t use much energy – such as remote controls and clocks – a disposable battery will last a long time. For high-drain uses though, such as torches and wireless gaming controllers, consider how frequently you’re replacing the batteries in these type of things. If you’re using disposables then your duds are just going to waste every time you’re done with them. Use a rechargeable battery, however, and the resources and energy that went into creating it get spread across its multiple uses.

Plus, rechargeable batteries stay at a constant voltage. When they run out of juice, they’ll just stop working – unlike disposables, which tend to drop in power towards the end of their lifecycle, which can mean dim torchlight and ineffective camera flash.

Then, of course, there are the financial advantages. Now it’s no secret that rechargeable batteries are more expensive than their disposable counterparts – and of course they require a charger, too – but if you’re regularly forking out for fresh disposables you could certainly be saving money in the long run. Duracell claims its AAA Recharge Plus batteries can be used as many as 400 times, for example. At the equivalent of around £2.50 per battery, that works out at less than a penny per use! There are some cheap disposable batteries on the market, but none that cost that little.

Bear in mind that rechargeable batteries come in different capacities. Generally speaking, the lower the capacity, the less time the battery will last on a single charge. The pay-off, however, is that these types hold their charge well and don’t drop in capacity even after hundreds of uses. Anything under 1,500mAh (milliamp hour) is considered low capacity for AA batteries, with 600mAh for AAA batteries.

The bottom line

With so much of everyday life depending on batteries it’s no surprise we have such an appetite for them. But our battery habit hoovers up energy and resources, so it’s unsustainable and damaging to the climate. Investing in rechargeable batteries limits the amount of waste and environmental damage disposal batteries have on the planet, and will help save you money in the long-run, too.

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