Batteries image

Rechargeable batteries can be better for the environment than disposables, but only if they are used to their full potential.

Mario Grosso is a professor at the Polytechnic Institute of Milan. He’s part of a team of researchers studying the environmental impact of different types of batteries. They look at every aspect of a battery’s life cycle, starting from the raw materials used to produce it and ending when it’s thrown out or recycled.

Grosso: “We refer to it as the cradle-to-grave approach.”

When you consider the greenhouse gases generated from manufacturing, rechargeables look better than disposables. We can reuse them, so we don’t need to make as many.

But when you look at other factors, the benefits of rechargeables are less clear. Charging batteries requires energy, and they’re made of toxic materials that can be harmful without proper disposal.

Another variable is human behavior. Just because a battery can be recharged does not mean that it is recharged and reused.

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Grosso said that if a battery is recharged about 50 times, its overall benefit is significant. But if it’s used only a few times and thrown away, its impact is worse than a disposable.

Grosso: “The results are highly dependent on the behavior of the citizens.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Image graphic: Created by David McCarthy.

Daniel Grossman, Ph.D., is an award-winning freelance print journalist and radio and web producer with more than 20 years of experience. He earned his B.S. in physics and his Ph.D. in political science,...