Rechargeable batteries are no doubt an investment. The upfront cost makes those $5 single-use batteries seem much more appealing.
But despite the price, The National Electrical Manufacturers Association has estimated that U.S. demand for rechargeables is growing twice as fast as demand for non-rechargeables.
Just how high is that demand? More than 350 million rechargeable batteries are purchased annually in the U.S. Plus, the Battery Act of 1996 provides easy ways for the public to recycle these batteries because it is mandated by law.
But if the price is a concern, and you can’t afford to purchase rechargeable batteries for every electronic in your household, which ones suck the most power and are worth the extra buck? Here are some products that deserve the splurge, saving you money in the long run.
1. Digital cameras
What to look for: Let’s get a little techy here. Batteries are rated in milliAmpere-hours (mAh) – thousandths of amp-hours. So a 2,700mAh battery is equivalent to a 2.7Ah battery. In layman’s terms, the higher your mAh number, the better.
Battery experts recommend the new hybrid Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries for most purposes. These batteries have at least 500 charges in a lifetime. The problem with regular NiMH batteries is that they quickly loose charge in storage – 1 percent a day to be exact. While that may not sound like a lot when broken down, the capacity actually drops to about 73 percent in just one month. That’s money down the drain.
How to maximize power: In order to preserve the maximum battery life, use a high-capacity charger designed for your specific battery. According to Bill Howard of PC Magazine, “NiMH batteries are sensitive to overcharging and require closer monitoring by the charger; plug NiMH batteries into a charger designed for NiCads and you may overcharge and damage them.”
One of the biggest power drains on a digital camera is its flash – both built-in and external. If using a DSLR camera, adjust the shutter speed and try to make it without using the bright bulb. Natural light usually turns out a better photo anyway.
2. MP3 players
What to look for: We know what you’re thinking, “I don’t even know how to remove my iPod’s battery.” That’s because most latest and more popular MP3 players already have a built-in lithium-ion battery that has up to 36 hours of playback time when fully charged. But your built-in battery may loose juice over time, and you may just have to spring for a new one (Psst! If you take your old iPod to the Apple store for an upgrade, you’ll get a 10 percent discount, and they’ll recycle it for free).
But short lifespan is how consumer electronics keep us hooked. So, if you’re looking for a long-term relationship with a certain special MP3 player, consider getting one with a removable battery pack. We’ll give you an insider tip: Be sure you stock up on the specific battery packs while they’re still around because there’s no guarantee they’ll be available in two years.
If it sounds like too much work, and you just want that bright pink iPod shuffle, Apple has a program designed for spent batteries. For a $70 fee, you can mail in your iPod, and Apple will replace the battery for you.
How to maximize power: A li-on battery pack guarantees 500 complete charge cycles, but you could get up to 2,000 charge cycles. Go for partial charge cycles as much as possible, and don’t let your battery run completely dry before charging. But the biggest drain for MP3 player batteries is heat, so keep your gadget at room temperature.
Also, you can adjust the settings on your MP3 player to allow for maximum battery life. Keep your consumption low by turning the backlight down or off, and if you’re using an iPod Touch, disable the Wi-Fi so it’s not constantly searching for a signal (this works in cell phones and laptops as well).
3. Electric toothbrushes
What to look for: There are two types of electric toothbrushes: rechargeable and battery-powered. A rechargeable electric will often come with a wall charger that uses inductive charging and often use a different type of cleaning technology called oscillating-rotating or sonic technology. Battery-powered toothbrushes typically use AA batteries and have a similar design of a manual brush. According to Oral-B, rechargeable electrics are usually more technologically sophisticated. However, you’ll still get a decent cleaning experience with a battery-powered, and it will be a lot cheaper.
How to maximize power: If purchasing a battery-powered toothbrush, sticking with your standard AA or AAA Nickel-cadminum (NiCd) is usually a safe bet. Most of the toothbrushes will have a battery power indicator light and will have an option to set your brush time. Make sure your battery charger is tailored to your type of battery. Let the batteries cool to room temperature before charging as well.
When single is OK
Alkaline batteries also store well and lose only about 2 percent of their charge per year and work best in slow-drain devices, such as TV remotes, smoke detectors and wall clocks. David Pogue’s comparison tests for The New York Times show that regular alkaline batteries last longer in a device that’s on continuously.
Your local solid waste department may tell you to put alkaline batteries in with your regular trash. This is partly due to the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act passed in 1996, which phased out the use of mercury in alkaline batteries, making them less of an issue when disposed in landfills.
But this doesn’t mean alkalines are not recyclable. Because they are available on a wider scale, many major retailers will accept them for recycling.
Need even more battery life?
If you’re still looking for ways to cut corners and save an extra charge, Call2Recycle has even more tips for maintaining battery life:
- Always follow the charging guidelines provided by the manufacturer. There are specific recommended charging times for each individual product that should be followed before the product is used for the first time.
- Never return a fully-charged battery to the charger for an extra boost. This will shorten the life of the battery.
- Never place a non-rechargeable battery in a battery charger.
- Do not leave a rechargeable battery in the charger when it is not charging.
- Let a discharged battery cool to room temperature before recharging.
- Recharge batteries only when they are close to being fully discharged.
We also heard that because rechargeable batteries have a high leakage rate, storing them in your refrigerator or freezer once they are charged will decrease their drain, but we haven’t tested that theory yet.
No matter what kind of battery you use, recycling them at their end of life is key to preventing pollution and recapturing valuable metals to be reused.
Because of their materials, these batteries may or may not be considered hazardous waste in different states. So, you should always check with your local government health, solid waste or recycling department before you consider their disposal.
Cool Battery-powered Gadgets
The Ultimate Battery Guide
Single-Use vs. Rechargeable
Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Call2Recycle is one of these partners.