We have caused enough damage to mother earth through pollution, and single-use batteries are a big part of the problem. Even though these energy sources are crucial to powering various electronics around the home, it is high time we rethink their use.
But should single-use batteries be banned? To answer this question, we need to look at what makes up these batteries, their impact on the environment, and the available alternatives.
What Is a Single-Use Battery?
Also called primary cells, single-use batteries have a short lifespan and must be disposed of after the charge or energy in them runs out. The most common types are:
- Alkaline cells
- Lithium cells
- Mercury cells
- Silver-oxide cells
- Zinc-carbon cells
They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but all of them contain several chemicals, such as lead, cadmium, silver, nickel, mercury, etc.
What You Need To Know About Battery Disposal and the Environment
These chemicals do not wear out as you drain the batteries. They retain their toxicity, and this presents a big problem when you have to throw them away.
Improperly Disposed Batteries Are Toxic to the Environment
There is a correct and recommended way to dispose of single-use batteries after they run out. However, most people toss them in the bin, leaving them to end up in landfills and water bodies. Eventually, they start decaying, and the chemicals leak into the soil, groundwater, and surface water.
All these chemicals end up in plants and animals, including humans. Batteries like the lithium type can also cause air pollution because their instability can cause fires on landfills that smother for a long time. Not only does this affect the quality of air that we breathe, but it also mixes with moisture and drops back to the ground as contaminated rain.
Improperly Disposed Batteries Negatively Affect Human Health
In addition to the chemicals being harmful to the environment, they are also highly destructive to the human body. Lead and other corrosive elements can cause burns to the skin and eyes, while nickel and cadmium are human carcinogens (they can cause cancer). Lead also causes congenital disabilities and neurological damage.
Therefore, you can imagine the kind of dangers we expose ourselves to when we encourage single-use batteries, then dispose of them in the wrong way.
Single-Use Batteries Require More Natural Resources
Compared to rechargeable batteries, the single-use type requires more natural resources because it is not reusable. All the materials used to build the battery become waste once the battery runs out. It is also more expensive because you have to keep buying a new set every time the old ones run out.
However, the rechargeable type requires fewer resources because it is reusable. Additionally, it is cheaper to use in the long run because you don’t have to keep buying new ones. You only have to plug it into a wall outlet via a charger to refill.
Should Single-Use Batteries Be Banned?
Absolutely. The question is, why haven’t governments worldwide done it yet? Even though these batteries negatively affect the environment and our health, there are some areas where users consider the performance of single-use batteries as superior to rechargeable ones. A perfect example is the 9V disposable batteries used in smoke alarms.
However, rechargeable batteries will eventually replace disposable ones. It is just a matter of time. It is just like the way incandescent and halogen light bulbs are getting phased out in the UK. Initially, the people created a fuss about the whole idea, but the energy guzzlers had to go, and the phasing out is almost complete.
Single-Use Vs Rechargeable Batteries
Single-use batteries are bad for the environment. However, apart from the resources, cost, and environmental effects, comparing them with the rechargeable type is somehow complicated.
According to research published in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, single-use batteries account for the largest market share in Europe. However, the popularity of rechargeable batteries is rising because manufacturers promote them as the more environmentally friendly option.
The study compared the two types of batteries, more specifically, rechargeable NiMH and disposable alkaline batteries. They found that using the rechargeable battery for less than 20 charging cycles has a higher impact on acidification, particulate matter, and human toxicity (cancer effects) than the disposable ones.
Rechargeable batteries perform worse than their single-use counterparts with ozone depletion unless they get recharged over 150 times.
The bottom line is that rechargeable batteries are only better for the environment if used in high consumption devices, such as torches, cameras, and electronic toys, because they will get recharged multiple times.
How Best To Deal with Single-Use Batteries?
Since single-use batteries are not going anywhere, for now, we must learn to dispose of them the right way. The UK government requires all retailers and distributors to offer a free collection of used batteries if they sell more than 32 kilos of non-rechargeable batteries annually.
You can take back any sealed battery that is not difficult to carry. These include 9V, AA, AAA, rechargeable, phone, laptop, and torch batteries for collection. Car batteries don’t qualify because they are cumbersome to carry.
A battery compliance scheme will collect these batteries free of charge from the collection centres and take them to a recycling plant.
For small retailers and distributors who sell less than 32 kilos, the collection is voluntary, and they will have to transport the old batteries to the recycling plant themselves.
So, should single-use batteries be banned? It might not be the best time to ban single-use batteries. However, with improvements in rechargeable batteries and environmental assessment studies on the impact of both battery types, it is only a matter of time before the rechargeable type becomes superior in all aspects. At this point, it will make sense to ban single-use batteries, reducing harmful effects on the environment.