Disposable batteries are re-volting!

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You know what grinds my gears? Disposable batteries. These little metal cylinders of acid are used in a multitude of gadgets today, from remote controlled children’s toys to remote controlled adults’ toys. But when we know they are bad for the environment, why do we still favour disposable over rechargeable? I took a wander from Power a Life HQ to our closest supermarket, and checked out what was on offer.


It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who has ever bought batteries in a supermarket (which, I’m assuming, is almost anyone reading this blog), that around 96% of what is stocked on the shelf are disposables, from two global behemoths in the battery market. Roughly 7% of disposable choices on the shelf are advertised as ‘eco-friendly’, despite, well, still being disposable batteries. The last 4% are rechargeable. If we have a little think about the difference in price, and of course the ecology of it all, it’s easy to see where your smart money should be spent.

First off, the ecology. Bear with me on this, as the money part is where it gets really interesting. All types of batteries can be recycled, fact. There are a few different types of battery out there, each using a different chemical composition to create electricity, but the key thing to remember is that they can all be recycled. In fact, for battery producers in the UK, including Power a Life, we have a legal obligation to do so. Here in the UK, this is done through what is known as a battery compliance scheme. Other European countries have similar battery recycling schemes.

This places a legal obligation onto all retailers, producers, and importers bringing batteries into the EU market to provide collection points for their customers’ spent batteries. You may have noticed that all supermarkets have a battery drop-off point, for example. Power a Life is considered a small producer due to the small amount of batteries we have brought into the UK market, but we take our responsibilities seriously. Therefore, any Power a Life customer can send us back their spent wee PALs, and we’ll recycle them (they will last at least 2 years by the way). You can also simply drop them off at your nearest supermarket. What’s a little heartbreaking, though, is that despite all this legislation on the part of retailers to offer free, convenient recycling for consumers, less than 40% of all batteries are actually recycled.

Now to the money, and this is where I get really annoyed. Take a look at the picture below, and then let’s crunch the numbers.

One packet of 4 name-brand AA disposable batteries in our local supermarket costs, on average, £5. On the other hand, one packet of 4 name-brand AA rechargeable batteries costs, on average, £10. So, admittedly, they cost twice the price, and that’s before we’ve bought a charger! For the sake of the argument, let’s say that a packet of 4 AA rechargeable batteries with a charger (which also charges AAA batteries) is a costly £20 all in. So, rechargeable batteries, in this example, using supermarket prices, work out to be 4 times more expensive. But, and this is a big but, a rechargeable battery will do 300 cycles, or charges, compared to a disposable.

If we run the numbers based on the costs and numbers above, let’s see what the difference in price is. Our packet of 4 rechargeable batteries will do 1200 cycles between them, so are equivalent to 1200 disposables. If we use the price we mention before (£5 for a pack of four disposables), this works out to be £1.25 per battery. So, it would cost us £1500 in disposable batteries to equal the power we get out of just 4 rechargeables.

In the sake of fairness, we should subtract that ‘costly’ initial investment of £20 for the rechargeable system, giving us a WHOPPING total saving (or cost, if you buy disposable) of £1480!

Gears well and truly ground. My question to you is, next time you’re needing to get AA batteries for your TV remote, kid’s remote controlled car (which needs 8!) or wireless mouse, what are you going to buy? Not only would you be saving the planet from the tiny eco disasters that are disposable batteries, but you’d be saving yourself a fortune if you switched to rechargeables. Give it some thought….little changes in our patterns of consumption could save the planet and your wallet. Don’t beat yourself up too much, but if you’re feeling guilty because you use disposables, why not provide a kid in Africa with a clean and truly renewable source of power….

(The above numbers are based only on one supermarket, do not take into account discounts online and cost of electricity to recharge rechargeables)

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