Batteries vex consumers the same way tax returns do. Both represent a necessary evil: Just as we’ll need to pay Uncle Sam his due in a few short weeks, we also consume 3 billion cells annually to run our toys, electronic games and digital gadgets. But given a choice, we’d rather not bother with them, right? Death, taxes and dead batteries — what a trio of certainties for the Digital Age.
What’s more, even rechargeable cells too often wind up in landfills, a real danger in the case of NiCd (nickel-cadmium) batteries — banned in Europe because of the environmental hazards of cadmium. That also raises questions as to whether rechargeables are more economical than disposables, and how the two types split up market share these days.
So here’s to boosting our battery acumen: sorting fact from fiction and bargains from bogus claims. Here are seven tips for getting the best life out of batteries, the hottest deals around and the most efficient disposal methods once you’re done with those spent cells.
1) Find a battery recycling hotspot. Our friends at Earth911.com offer a handy search tool that allows you to find where you can recycle batteries (or just about anything) in your locale. I recommend “single-use batteries” as a good search term in lieu of “alkaline batteries,” as it covers the whole gamut of disposables. The search feature also lets you track places that recycle rechargeable batteries. Keep in mind that Target and many local pharmacy chains offer free recycling. And if you check around, you may find a local recycling center that pays you for your spent batteries. Check with your local municipality to see who might offer such incentives.
2) Only refrigerate your batteries in extreme heat. The Big Battery Myth is that refrigeration makes them last longer. And it does, though in most cases not by much: Alkaline batteries discharge at less than 2% a year. But in prolonged heat of about 100 degrees, they’ll lose a quarter of their charge. And rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries lose a few percentage points daily. So, I wouldn’t feel compelled to refrigerate my batteries any more than I’d put my Diet Coke can in my radio’s battery compartment. Besides, batteries have to reach room temperature to work at full charge, one reason why battery companies don’t recommend refrigerating or freezing their products.
3) Buy disposable batteries in bulk. dealnews has loads of great deals on batteries, and most of what you’ll find here goes beyond the normal 4-pack at the local pharmacy. Alkaline batteries are a great bulk buy because they have a pretty long shelf life, about seven years. Here’s one outstanding deal for Rayovac, a trusted brand (never, ever buy no-name batteries). The price: $19 for 48 AA cells, and free shipping. Hey, I’m getting charged up.
4) For rechargeable batteries, pick NiMH. The hard part of playing Rechargeable Battery Bingo is diligently searching out the best value. First off, skip nickel-cadmium batteries altogether, as they drain easy and harm the environment worst of all. You’ll have much better luck with newfangled NiMH batteries, which come close to alkaline batteries for shelf life. These, however, I recommend buying in smaller quantities. If you get partially charged batteries mixed up with fresh ones, it’ll be virtually impossible to tell them apart — and tracking down a dozen gizmos with rechargeables can be a headache. You’re going to need a charger, too, so I love this deal, which gives you 2 AA Sony batteries and the charger for $7, shipping included.
5) For long life, it’s lithium. Look around for great deals on lithium disposable batteries (keep watch on dealnews and you'll be sure to find some soon), because these last by far the longest, even though they can cost about five times as much as their alkaline counterparts. While we don’t like to encourage the use of disposable anything, it’s a fact that for some applications, rechargeable simply isn’t practical. Besides taking hours to freshen, rechargeables can be drained in minutes by digital devices such as cameras and guitar effects pedals. CVS actually sells a 4-pack of AA Energizer Lithium cells for $19.49 online, and these babies will last you seven times longer than alkalines. You’ll use far fewer disposable batteries, and spend less money, too.
6) Key comparisons: rechargeable versus disposables. One in five dry-cell batteries sold in the U.S. are rechargeable, according to Earh911.com. And while a 4-pack of NiMH batteries will typically cost $4, while a 20 pack of alkalines might cost $9, you’ll save a minimum of 100 disposables for every rechargeable you use. Sadly, those lame NiCd batteries (do you sense a theme here?) make up 80% of the rechargeable market. But consumers are catching on to NiMH, which are superior in every way, even cost. If you have NiCd batteries at home, I’d get rid of them now, by way of safe recycling. You don’t want to forget about or misplace them and inadvertently spew toxins into the environment later.
7) Make your batteries last longer. Always turn devices off when you’re not using them. Storing batteries in a cool, dry place can do almost as much good as refrigerating them. Try not to mix worn-out batteries with fresh ones, as it places a greater strain on new batteries. Another good idea: Keep a battery checker on hand: Radio Shack makes a nifty little device that helps you keep track of how much life your batteries have. The Enercell Battery Tester ($9.99) tests all standard battery sizes. Mine’s never failed me yet.
Photo credit: Scalespeeder