Australians spend around $400 million each year on batteries - that’s about $50 per household! Last year Australians were responsible for the importation of 279 million single-use batteries and 65 million rechargeable batteries. This equates to an annual waste of over 8,000 tonnes of used batteries, which are the most common form of hazardous waste disposed of by Australian households.
Most of us use batteries in a range of items from remote controls, clocks, radios, wireless mice and keyboards, phone handsets, children’s toys and even toothbrushes. The average home has at least 3 - 4 uses for batteries.
There are a wide range of battery types, many of which contain toxic metals such as cadmium, mercury and lead. Others contain valuable materials like magnesium and zinc.
Lead acid batteries
Lead acid batteries are commonly used in cars and other vehicles, as well as emergency lighting, security alarms, as backup power supplies for solar panels, and much more.
Every year, Australian households purchase 7.6 million lead acid batteries, and dispose of 6.4 million that have reached the end of their useful lives. Although many are recycled, around 135,000 are sent to landfill each year, and another 111,000 are stockpiled in places like household garages.
Lead-acid batteries are made up of sheets of lead immersed in a ‘bath’ of sulfuric acid. Usually the whole assembly is contained in a robust plastic case made of polypropylene or polyethylene. Used lead acid batteries are valuable for their components and are 96% recyclable.
The overwhelming majority of batteries sold are single-use or throwaway batteries, most of which end up in the garbage bin. Single-use batteries include alkaline, lithium, carbon zinc and button batteries.
Buying rechargeable batteries is an important way to reduce battery waste. Each battery can be recharged up to 1000 times, saving money and reducing pollution from discarded batteries.
Rechargeable batteries contain metals such as cadmium, which can be harmful to the environment. Rechargeable batteries commonly contain toxic metals such as nickel-cadmium (NiCad), nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion, which can harm the environment by contaminating soil and groundwater.
Used rechargeable batteries are classified as a hazardous waste under the Hazardous Waste Act 1989 and they must not be disposed of with general waste. This includes batteries in laptops, mobile phones, power tools and cameras.
Why use rechargeable batteries?
Single use batteries have a greater impact on the environment than rechargables. In fact, one study showed that for the same amount of energy produced, rechargeable batteries have up to 32 times less impact on the environment than disposable batteries. Rechargables have less impact in terms of global warming potential, use of non-renewable resources, air and water pollution and impact on air acidification. They make great environmental sense.
A simple switch to rechargeable batteries not only reduces waste, it saves money in a relatively short period of time depending on usage levels.
As the most common types of batteries used in the home are AA and AAA, let’s take AA batteries as an example. The power delivered and the cost of a battery varies, but most cost between $0.75 and $1.00. The cost of a charger and batteries has dropped significantly over recent years so that you can now buy batteries and a charger for about the equivalent cost of $5.00 per battery. That might sound a lot at first, but these batteries can be recharged at least 400 times and potentially up to 1000 times. Throw in the cost of recharging, which works out to less than half a cent per charge, and the real cost of each battery falls to 2 cents or less per use.
Even compared to the lowest cost single-use battery you save money. We estimate that after 15 to 20 charges you break even on the cost of your recharger and batteries. After that you are saving money.
Aldi supermarkets offer a free battery recycling service at all their Australian stores. Any brand of AA, AAA, C, D and 9V batteries (both rechargeable and non-rechargeable) are accepted - simply drop your used batteries into the dedicated bins in store.
To find your nearest recycling option for household quantities of batteries, visit RecyclingNearYou.com.au/batteries
To find battery recycling options for your work, visit BusinessRecycling.com.au