/ Home & Energy

Why don’t we phase out disposable batteries?

Bird's eye view of lots of batteries

The phasing out of energy-guzzling incandescent light bulbs is almost complete. To further help the environment, should disposable batteries be targeted next in favour of rechargeable ones?

Disposable batteries are a waste of money and a waste of space. Not only are they much more expensive to use compared to rechargeable batteries, but also their ‘disposable’ nature means many of us throw dozens of them away without a second thought.

These then end up in landfill, where they leak harmful chemicals into the earth. And what about recycling them? Well that’s a nice idea, but recent research has found that half the population has never recycled a battery. Not surprising, as when we investigated battery recycling last November we found several shops were flouting EU rules and neglecting to offer recycling boxes.

Ditch disposables

Clearly, disposable batteries are bad for the environment – so why doesn’t the government ban them outright? There may need to be a few exceptions (9V disposable batteries for smoke alarms perhaps) but rechargeable batteries could replace disposables in most cases.

Some people – many whom have never tried rechargeable batteries – moan about the hassle of recharging them, but if we had to use them surely we would get used to it?

Recharging your batteries is no more hassle than recharging your phone – something many of us do daily without a second thought. And the fact that you can now buy ‘hybrid’ batteries, which come pre-charged and hold their charge impressively well, mean they are pretty much just as convenient as disposables.

And financially? Well on that level a ban would certainly act in our favour. A pack of rechargeable batteries may be pricier than a pack of disposables – but the fact you can reuse them up to 1,000 times means each pack saves you hundreds of pounds over its lifetime, compared to using disposables.

Am I missing something, or is it clear that batteries should start being phased out now? Of course some people will kick up a fuss, like they did with light bulbs, but I can’t see any other reason not to.

Should we phase out disposable batteries?

No - rechargables aren't a good alternative (42%, 254 Votes)

Yes - they are wasteful (36%, 222 Votes)

I'm still confused about what's best (22%, 133 Votes)

Total Voters: 609

Loading ... Loading ...

I won’t pretent that I’ve read every convo – I have not – but looking at the interest this has generated, and the poll results, it looks as though this is inspiring contributions in a way that only phasing out of cheques can really beat.

The poll is a close run thing though, however a majority of people don’t want to see disposables completely phased out.

Given this position, can we be assured that Which? will be campaigning for, at the very least, a MUCH improved public information campaign about the potential pros and cons of both types of battery, and a VASTLY improved level of honesty and detail in government sponsored campaigns to get everyone to stop using disposables?

I hope that Which? will also be campaigning for a very clear labelling system, such as Tom Hawkins has suggested – this is probably the best idea on this topic that I have seen ever, and I’d suggest that a parallel scheme should have been applied to the energy saving lamps too, but it’s a bit late for that one now.

Duncan Fry says:
15 February 2011

While I accept that standard batteries are more wasteful than rechargeables I, and I’m sure others, have appliances where rechargeables are either advised against or don’t fit – they must be slightly wider.
I also don’t understand the rating system – do different ratings denote greater power or the same power for longer?
Chargers are of variable quality – one I bought a little while ago now works on only 2 of its 4 terminals.
A comparison with the lightbulb issue does not reassure me – I now have 3 very expensive lamps for which no bulbs are available and will be useless when my stock of replacements is exhausted. And others where the low energy alternatives are unsightly or provide poor light quality or both.

I found this interesting web site that delves into the facts and myths of battery suitability



Mark says:
2 March 2011

No! Disposable batteries must not be phased out. Rechargeable batteries can be used for many applications and I do use them. However, for some things, rechargeable batteries are not suitable*. I have several devices that contain in the instructions “Do NOT use rechargeable batteries”. I don’t want to be forced to discard working products as a result of a ban.

And I didn’t like the poll. There was no option that I agreed with.

* Rechargeble batteries do have different electrical characteristics from disposables.

Certainly these batteries have different electrical characteristics. In most cases, products can be designed to cope with both disposable and rechargeable batteries. What we need to phase out is manufacture of products that are poorly designed and can only be used disposable batteries.

In our household 90% of batteries are rechargeable and invested in £40 “proper” battery charger to ensure batteries are well maintained. Having extra batteries allows us to always have a fully charged set of readies in the event something runs out.

The kids know how to use the charger and we do not buy disposable batteries. However, for new kit often disposable batteries are supplied and these are used recycled when used at local stores, once you have found the boxes.

It can be done but I am sure if more people brought rechargables the overall price would come down but more thought needs to be given to the chargers and ensuring the batteries are not cooked when recharging thereby extending their live.

Rechargeable AA / AAA batteries have worked well for us but C and D type rechargeables we have had a poor time with these with minimal lifespan from them. Not sure why this is the case.

Adapters are available to use AA cells in equipment designed for C and D cells. AA cells are better value than the larger sizes because they are so popular.

Whereas a disposable C or D cell will have a substantially greater capacity than an AA cell, that may not be the case with disposables. I’ve just checked the Energizer website and found that their D cells are rated at 2500 mAh compared with 2450 mAh for their highest capacity AA cells. If you can get hold of industrial grade D cells at a sensible price, they have a higher capacity than the types sold to the general public.

It is best to keep rechargeables in sets of the same capacity and make sure that they are all fully charged before use.

PS For ‘cells’ read ‘batteries’ if that makes more sense.

I have a number of rechargeable batteries and they are very good for appliances that get reasonably regular use. However I do find they self-discharge over a few months and for that reason are not good in low-drain appliances in which batteries are supposed to last for years – clocks and smoke alarms being two good examples.

Since these kinds of low-drain appliances actually costs very little to run even using the most expensive disposables, I now reserve my rechargables for high-drain items such as torches and toys.

Jason Woodson says:
4 June 2013

Assuming the person is not buying el cheapo chargers and batteries. Rechargeable batteries are superior in every way. With the new LSD (Low Self Discharge) when unused will hold 85 percent of the charge for 1 year, which means they are now good for clocks and fire alarms. Granted you may need to change clock and fire alarm every 2 to 3 years but that is quite reasonable. Yes, lithium batteries last longer but they are harmful to the environment. The biggest issue is people have this very poor idea that all rechargeable batteries/chargers are the same and this is simply not true and the best brands aren’t at your local Wal-mart, except sometimes one can find Sanyo Eneloop at wal-mart. However there are other brands which are as good or better that cannot be found at such stores and can only be found online. The very top brands beside Sanyo Eneloop are Powerex Imedion, Accupower, and Tenergy Premium (not Standard). Best chargers is basically anything from Maha Powerex, Ansmann, and Accupower. No Duracell, Energizer, and Rayovac rechargeable batteries are junk as they don’t put good efforts in making good rechargeable batteries because they risk revenue loss on there own disposables. Yes, disposable should absolutely be banned, just keep extra rechargeables around so a set is always ready on-hand.

[This comment has been edited due to breaking our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods.]

Maureen Mclugash says:
1 June 2014

Can anyone tell me please about Electronic Cigaretts

Jason Woodson says:
1 June 2014

The poll just makes no sense as people are saying that “rechargeables aren’t a good alternative”. Why aren’t they as rechargeables now have life per charge as a disposable. They can hold 85 percent of a single charge after a year in storage. You realistically at least 400 charges from a rechargeable battery. Now these batteries can be purchase pre-charged and ready to use out of the package.

The only reason I can think why folks aren’t onboard with rechargeable batteries is they are using the generic charge like the ones that come with energizer and Duracell or simply too lazy to charge them. Cost can’t be an issue as good rechargeable are only 12.99 a 4 pack.

For God’s sake the planet is being rapidly poisoned for hundreds of our future decendents!. It’s a no brainer!. Wake up!.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan, I don’t know why you mentioned capacitors here. This convo is about primary and secondary batteries, to use some real Electrical Engineering terms for single use and rechargeable batteries.

Any kind of battery converts stored chemical energy to electrical energy – either unidirectionally or via a reversible process. In contrast capacitors store electrical energy. As you noted, capacitors cannot be efficiently used for the long term storage of electrical energy and, relative to chemical energy sources, they are also very bulky and heavy for any given quantity of stored energy. But if a very intermittent and very high power is needed, then capacitors can deliver much higher pulsed powers than batteries, so they are useful for applications like pulsed lasers (shouldn’t every home have at least one?) and photo flash guns.

Compressed air and flywheel storage are two more relatively good energy storage mediums that might sometimes be used to replace or reduce the number of batteries needed in a portable item – but I’m doubt that either of them has wide appeal for consumer products.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan the convo is not about getting rid of rechargeable batteries – it is really just about getting rid of disposables. So there’s not much need for the discussion of other energy storage technologies here.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan, my previous comment was only a comment. I wasn’t saying that you should not have started blinding us with science about capacitors, but, in a nutshell, your response didn’t look very useful to our purposes here. All you seemed to be saying was “sorry we’re stuck with batteries because capacitors are no good”. As the convo assumes that recharcheables are a good idea, I l didn’t think that was being challenged here.

Most folk I know use rechargeable batteries in the majority of their portable devices.

But where disposable batteries – or only a few sets of them – might do for the entire life of a device, the extra cost and inconvenience of using good quality rechargeables may not be worthwhile.

Earlier this week, in a charity shop, I spent 50p on a “wind-up” torch. It contains a very small rechargeable battery and a minature generator, roughly the size of a milk bottletop, to power its three LED’s.

I use rechargeable batteries where it makes sense. In many applications such as infrequently used remote controls, disposable batteries can last for years, so there would be no benefit in using rechargeables.

The Which? tests focus on capacity, but that is not really relevant when there is little drain. I have been using Kodak batteries for years. They don’t do well in the Which? tests because of their low capacity but I find they do well and rarely leak, unlike some more expensive brands.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I’ve had a “freeplay” wind up rechargeable radio/torch combination with integrated solar panel for about 10 years and it is still going strong. It lives in the greenhouse and rarely needs winding, the solar cell doing the work.