Should We Recycle AA (Disposable) Batteries?
Disposable batteries only deliver tiny amounts of energy, but it is their portability, long shelf life, and reliability that make them so useful.
FACTOID: THE AA- AND AAA-SIZE BATTERIES HAVE BEEN AROUND A LONG TIME. THEY WERE STANDARDIZED BY 1937.
Achieving that level of performance and reliability has required extraordinary investments in purifying and refining the materials from which portable batteries are made. As a result, disposable batteries deliver less than one percent of the energy during use that is required to manufacture them.
FACTOID: ELECTRICITY FROM A DISPOSABLE BATTERY COSTS MORE THAN 1000 TIMES THE SAME AMOUNT ELECTRICITY DELIVERED BY AN ELECTRIC UTILITY VIA THE GRID.
That makes these ubiquitous batteries amongst the most expensive and environmentally intensive sources of energy commonly used.
DISPOSABLE BATTERIES WERE ONCE THE LARGEST SOURCE OF MERCURY IN TRASH, UNTIL MERCURY WAS PHASED OUT OF MOST BATTERIES IN THE EARLY 1990S.
Compared to lead-acid batteries, recycling AA batteries is
difficult and inefficient due to their material complexity
and the challenge of collecting them. In most cases, the costs of recycling disposable batteries outweighs the benefits.
What does Charged say about AA batteries and the rise of a modern throw-away society? Read the beginning of chapter two below…
Additional sources about disposable batteries:
The Engineering Mindset, "How Batteries Work" [video]
EPA, "Mercury in Batteries"
Department of Commerce, "Electrical Characteristics and Testing of Dry Cells" (1923)
CalRecycle, "Batteries - End of Life Management and Recycling"