January 27, 2024
By David Goldstein
The electronic gifts you gave in December may have drained batteries by now. Some electronics come with low-quality, single-use batteries, ensuring a toy or device works long enough to make it unreturnable to a store.
Perfectly good toys end up in thrift stores or garbage carts because parents get tired of replacing single-use batteries. But replacing them with rechargeable versions ends the cycle of battery disposal and purchase.
Rechargeable batteries work well and are cost-effective for items used regularly, but are not usually suitable for items stored for long periods.
That’s why Batteries Plus, a nationwide retailer with stores in Camarillo, Ventura and Thousand Oaks, sells far more standard chargers than universal chargers, a salesperson said.
Standard chargers, which the chain sells for $39.99, handle only AA and AAA batteries. Universal chargers, which sell for just $10 more, also handle C, D and 9-volt batteries. Despite the small additional cost, people don’t prefer universal chargers because they know the big batteries, used in items like flashlights, will likely have lost power after storage or due to high-drain usage when needed, the store worker said.
As for cost, a 36-pack of store brand AA non-rechargeable alkaline batteries costs $14.99. That is about 42 cents per battery. A four-pack of nickel metal hydride rechargeable batteries costs $18.99, which is about $4.75 per battery.
According to an October web post on BatteryStuff.com by Steve DeGeyter, owner of the eponymous online battery store, the rechargeable batteries in the four-pack can be recharged on overnight slow-charge mode 600 to 1,000 times, depending mostly on battery specifications.
Of course, one cannot simply divide the $4.75 cost of a rechargeable battery by 600 charges to conclude a rechargeable battery’s effective cost for comparison is less than a penny. Long periods without use diminish the number of recharge cycles possible. Recharges do not last as long as the initial charge of a disposable battery, and the cost of the charger must be added.
Another option is to purchase batteries that last longer. A four-pack of lithium batteries costs $14.99 at Batteries Plus, and the store worker claimed they last three to five times longer than alkaline. That would make lithium batteries more expensive than standard alkaline versions, but buying a 36-pack of the alkaline variety could more easily result in waste of batteries stored until they’re no longer useful.
Both rechargeable and lithium batteries are also more easily recyclable than alkaline batteries. Large retailers selling rechargeable and lithium batteries in California are required to accept the batteries free from the public for recycling. Alkaline batteries, however, must be recycled at a drop-off site, hazardous waste collection event or through a mail-in program.
Some employers, houses of worship and community groups provide a box for members or employees to drop off batteries. However, this is not free recycling. For example, WeRecycle Battery Box charges $44.95 for a 12-pound capacity container with prepaid shipping.
Dustin Colyar, who manages household hazardous waste for the County of Ventura, says a “best practice” for any battery recycling is to tape the ends before placing batteries in a container, reducing the risk of fire. To avoid risks during battery usage, don’t mix batteries from different manufacturers and never mix batteries of different capacities or chemistries, such as mixing rechargeable batteries with single-use ones.
To find a battery recycling location close to you, call 1-800-822-8837 or visit www.call2recycle.org.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.